Every Which Way But Luz

Pulp Madness and Empty Pastiche

More a fetish object than a movie, Luz is nominally a possession thriller that really just wants to be uncut genre catnip for Comic-Con devotees and fantasy-film-festival geeks. Don’t think too much! Bliss out to the synth score. Savor the grainy widescreen celluloid. Salivate over the demonic ritual iconography. Trip balls at how the performances vacillate between catatonic and epileptic. Oh, are you the kind of square who wants a story that makes sense? Whatever.

LUZ ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Tilman Singer
Written by: Tilman Singer
Starring:  Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler
Running time: 70 min

Among the pieces of plot chum spewed out during its brief but ever-so-long 70 minutes: Luz Carrara (Luana Velis), a young heretical nun at a Chilean convent, spouts some kind of blasphemous incantation and induces others into vomiting up what they believe to be rotten fish. Or so says her cocktail-guzzling ex-lover Nora Vanderkurt (Julia Riedler), chatting with pager-checking psychotherapist Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) in an empty German-language bar that inexplicably has bilingual signs in English and Japanese. Then Nora takes Dr. Rossini into the bar’s bathroom, gives him a very enthusiastic rub-and-tug, opens her illuminated mouth, and kisses him before collapsing on the floor.

Everyone is just havin’ a blast in ‘Luz.’

Meanwhile, Luz is under police custody somewhere nearby. Dr. Rossini pops up and hypnotizes her so she can relive an episode from her new life as a taxi driver. Cathartic extrasensory re-enactments in Spanish, German, and English follow, along with milky-eyed freak stares, cross-dressing, spurts of blood, and a fog-machine finale.

Did I mention a naked pregnant woman inside a candle-ringed circle of salt? That, too.

It all adds up to an incoherent but impressive calling card for cinephilic wunderkind Tilman Singer, who made this debut flick as his film-school thesis. He clearly loves the pulp madness of the late ’70s and early ’80s, when body-horror innovators like David Cronenberg and Giallo maestros like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci were fully expressing their fulsome anxieties. And, following in the footsteps of Belgian-French duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, or Brit kink Peter Strickland, he dazzles with the same ersatz-pastiche approach to filmmaking.

Luz shines brightly but also blinds in the process. As a WTF frolic, it’s a hoot. But its deliberate obscurity reveals a cocksure approach that plays more as narrative insecurity. I’d like to say that I can’t wait to see what Singer does next. But he needs to figure out what he wants to say first, and why, before he uses other people’s stylish flourishes to say it.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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