One of the first things you’ll notice about Luz, the debut feature film from writer/director Tilman Singer, is its grit, both literally and figuratively. Shot on 16mm film, there’s the signature tremble to the footage, as each frame races through the camera capturing the action, and a certain vintage look to the proceedings overall. More than the (increasingly rare) choice to shoot on real film, Singer’s thriller about a young woman who stumbles into a police station one night after a mysterious attack in the cab she drives, the grit runs deep in characters we only spend a night with but come to know quite well.
While Luz (Luana Velis) starts to tell the detectives Bertillon and Olarte (Nadja Stübiger and Johannes Benecke, respectively) what’s happened to her, we also meet Nora (Julia Riedler), who’s at a nearby bar chatting up a fellow patron, Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt). With a compact 70 minute running time, it doesn’t take long to get to the good/weird stuff, as Nora is clearly not what she seems to be and seducing the doctor is a means to a very nefarious ends. Suffice it to say there’s a demon involved, and its persistence and laser focus on taking down Luz is as terrifying as it is impressive.
Dr. Rossini finds his way back to the precinct, where he participates in Luz’s interrogation, a process that’s turned into an odd reenactment of the night’s events. Set in Germany, Bertillon and Olarte proceed in their native tongue, while Nora and Luz, who knew each other at girls at a Catholic boarding school in Chile, are comfortable switching back and forth between German and Spanish. In order to get her story out, Luz speaks mainly in Spanish, meaning Olarte has to listen and translate to German in real-time; this echoing only serves to intensify the ever-more-disturbing story Luz tells. And as the demon finds its way into her memory, even her recollection of the night can’t be trusted.
Singer’s original story certainly thrills as it explores female friendship, the unreliable nature of memory and more, but it’s the performances that really seal the deal. Velis disappears into a role that demands several layers of awareness as she navigates her reality and being possessed; the demon has its way with both Bluthardt and Riedler, and I couldn’t help but think and they writhed under its influence that it must’ve actually been a whole lot of fun, letting go and diving directly into the deep end of the script’s demands.
Luz is now playing at Music Box Theatre.
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