'Luz' Is Daring, Unconventional, And Downright Demonic [Fantasia Film Festival]

Tilman Singer's Luz deceives its audience like a retro-grungy hall of mirrors, quietly unconventional and admittedly not a film for everyone. Dread filters through unexplained channels that hurtle softly towards a catastrophic finale...I think? I'm almost certain. Singer's mystifying opus presents itself in true form right before the credits roll, not before spiraling viewers into a boarded-up dungeon of nastily nestled psychotropic horrors. Sound, sight, and design all make for one simmer-on-the-grill slowest of slow burns, but when the flames finally rise, they singe with ruinous intent (depending on one's interpretation).Luana Velis stars as taxi driver Luz Carrara. She's just survived a car accident and wanders dazed into a run-down police station. Bertillon (Nadja Stübiger) leads the ensuing investigation, Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) acts as psychiatrist/interrogator, and Olarte (Johannes Benecke) as the translator/sound technician. They sit Luz down. Rossini hypnotizes her. Luz acts through the motions of her most eventful evening while the onlookers hope to uncover when passenger Nora Vanderkurt (Julia Riedler) eventually went missing. What do they discover? Answers...and a demonic entity who's been hunting Luz her entire life.The steadily confining and claustrophobic sense of Luz rises from how roughly 75% of the film's action occurs in a municipal boardroom or debriefing space. Plotting wavers in and out of Luz's hypnotized state, which Dr. Rossini manipulates like a puppeteer. His voice echoes over her imaginary radio, or Bertillon's walkie-talkie chatter blasts from outside her "car" – which, yes, is replicated by uncomfortable chairs placed in a row. Velis mimics all the motions of operating a taxi from gripping the clutch to rolling her window down, while the ambient soundtrack of late-night backstreets drowns out mimed silence. She may be sitting in front of a microphone and fake windshield mirror, yet sensory overloads allow for full recreation immersion as conscious memories begin to transform Dr. Rossini's generic four-walled pen. What a wonderful trick Singer plays, making something out of literally nothing (double kudos to Velis' improv cabbie display).Of course, the entire movie can't be Velis' choreographed recounting of her character's accident. We do, in many cases, hop back into Luz's Christmas-light lined vehicle. Nora Vanderkurt flaunts her flirtatious curves Luz's way after we learn they were once schoolmates. Dr. Rossini begins to infiltrate his subject's hazy visions to splice reality with mind controlled (and possibly murderous) remembrances. Out-of-body experiences, Luz's groggy confessional – this is all after Nora Vanderkurt may or may not have intercepted Dr. Rossini and pumped him full of fizzy pink cocktails and transferred a light-ball-pulse...via mouth.Luz is at is best when Singer dives headfirst into his focal character's forced mental penitentiary of suppressed experiences. In the beginning, buildup can befuddle, and possibly drag. It's always artfully captured – Luz chugging a carbonated vending machine beverage, then shuffling towards the screen – but furrowed brows will be the norm during these initial sequences. Long, awkward silences blanket the most mundane actions. Up-tempo musical swings spike moods. Singer doesn't care that you're left stranded and helplessly alone in his dark, foggy forest of the damned, even when pure evil takes hold. Luz's otherworldly childhood tampering comes into play full-force, seething and angry. Shit. Gets. Weird(er).Jan Bluthardt's snarling performance as blood and saliva drips from his mouth, guiding Luz towards her "destiny," is the film's crowning nightmare. Noted: Velis spends multiple spells of dialogue reciting her filthy Devil's Hail Mary (Thy kingdom stinks / Thy shall be done in the crotch of an old Grandpa). Noted: Benecke's locked-in-a-sound-booth-while-hell-breaks-loose terror provides such a sense of relief in that sanity still exists and someone is as distressingly answerless as us. Bluthardt's sometimes naked, sometimes in a dress underworld stage producing is some of the most sinister shit of 2018. There is so much I want to discuss, but that doesn't outweigh spoiling you. Just understand that I'm not even sure Singer himself can answer for his characters' actions – yet somehow Luz's writhing mystique ascends to a higher, experimental form worth challenging cinematic boundaries.In a sentence, Luz is one freak-without-a-leash, non-conventional horror dive that grows stronger as unknowns pile up. This is horror, not "elevated horror," as the kids say these days. (Fuck that phrase, don't @ me.) A seek-and-destroy demon who sets its sights from a young age and never relents? Dash some It Follows onto The Blackcoat's Daughter and you've got yourself a close-enough classification of something that dares not be defined. Outside of a marketable boilerplate, Luz is a drop-dead satanic mindfuck that will kick in a few scenes too late for some audiences, but for those who withstand, this tempered room-askew puzzler brings to light a fresh mindset of horror. It's heady, ponderous, and everything existential in between. Also, where can I get one of those color-changing drinks?

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10