We all know what a possession film entails. It’s usually a lot of holy water, jaded priests, screaming, vomiting, and praying. Frankly, they’ve been getting a little boring with their predictable narrative arcs and attempts to grapple with religion. However, director Tilman Singer aims to work against the well-tread possession story in his feature film debut, Luz. There are no priests, no attempts to exorcise demons, no holy water. Instead, this is a film about the act of possession itself and passing a demon into several bodies until it reaches its ideal host.
The film opens with the backwards-baseball-hat-wearing cabbie, Luz (Luana Velis), walking into a police station in a daze. She slowly walks to a vending machine, takes a long sip of Coke, then begins to scream, “is this how you want to live your life?” After this unsettling opening, we learn that Luz is a Chilean cab driver who works in Berlin with a dark secret: there’s a demon looking for her. She has stumbled into the station after leaping from her taxi to escape the demon’s grasp. Meanwhile, the demon is possessing people across the city to try and get to Luz.
The story never gives you straight answers. Sure, you get the gist of the narrative and how this creature has found Luz, but it is told through vague flashbacks and snippets of memory. Through stories told by Nora, an old classmate who is possessed by the demon, we learn that Luz summoned the hell creature while in school. It seems that this demon fell in love with Luz and has been searching for her ever since. It feels like there could be so much more to this story, but with a runtime of only an hour, parts of Luz feel disjointed and rushed. It feels like a film that is stuck between a short film and a feature-length film. While I am a fan of shorter runtimes, this is a rare instance where a horror movie needed a little more story to achieve its full potential.
The narrative struggles are overshadowed by a dazzling visual style that makes Luz feel like an hour-long nightmare. Singer plays with long takes and long shots to make large empty spaces feel threatening; the characters are small features in the seeming vastness of the police station. It feels hazy, as if you enter a trance when the film begins. Shot entirely on 16mm film, there are lens flares and film defects that lend to a timelessness that seems to exist in Luz. It is a dread-filled purgatory where everything is mute shades of beige and gray, where everything feels slightly disconnected from the reality. Watching Luz feels like floating through choppy waters where the threat of drowning is eminent.
Perhaps the film’s most stunning scene is Luz’s interrogation where dialogue deftly slips from German to Spanish to French to English and Luz pantomimes driving her taxi. It is a powerhouse performance by Velis who is able to move from pantomime to flashback to a strange in-between world without any hesitation or wavering of emotional intensity. It is a gorgeously choreographed scene that builds and builds in tension until it loudly snaps.
Singer’s fresh new take on the demonic, paired with a stunning visual style, solidifies him as a new and creative voice in the indie horror genre. While the story needs more room to breath and provide more context, there is no denying the strong vision behind Luz. It is a nightmarish tale of possession where there is no religious figure to help, no Bible verses to be screamed, and no holy water to be thrown. This is a film where the demon is fully in control. Luz offers a realm of new possibilities for overdone tropes and proves that original storytelling is still possible in the horror genre.