Writer/Director Tilman Singer’s first feature film doubles as his graduation project from the Academy of Media Arts Cologne and good lord is it a debut to take note of. Luz is a story of demonic possession that stands as perhaps the best John-Constantine-story-without-Constantine to ever be put on film – with Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy” video being the second best, in my humble opinion. It was an official selection at the Fantasia Film Festival, Fantastic Fest (where it had its US premiere), Berlin International Film Festival, Sitges Film Festival and many more with good reason.

The official synopsis of the film gives you a little insight into what you’re about to get yourself into, but doesn’t really prepare you for the sensory immersion you’re going to get: “LUZ begins as a young female cabdriver (Luana Velis, in the title role) drags herself into a run-down police station. However, a demonic entity follows her there, determined to finally be close to the woman it loves.”

Luz is a stunner from start to finish in gloriously grainy 16mm. It is to demonic possession films what Pontypool is to zombie films.

With scenes taking place in two main sets (not counting the hallway outside the police interrogation room and the front lobby of the police station), Luz could practically be adapted into a stage play, but Singer’s direction and editing (alongside Fabian Podeszwa) slide effortlessly between reality and dreams in a way that would be almost impossible to attempt outside of film. Using diegetic flashbacks reenacted with overlapping dialogue in both German and Spanish, some of which can only be heard by Luz while under hypnosis, we are drawn in to a tale involving an attempted satanic ritual at a Catholic girl’s school and its aftermath many years later.

There is an enticing minimalism and confident control to the storytelling as Singer languidly allows scene after scene to play out in long, mesmeric takes before finally beginning to play with the visual narrative as Luz is placed under hypnosis and her interrogation begins at the 41-minute mark. Along the way we are treated to a soundscape by Simon Waskow that at times hearkens to classic synth soundtracks of Cronenberg, Argento, or Fulci, and at other times incorporates classical components mixed with aetheric noise while also on occasion subtly manipulating spoken dialogue. Every element of Luz is designed to lull you into the dream playing out before your eyes and ears and then twist everything you think you know into knots.

The performances are nuanced and naturalistic, never forced, never feeling fake or like scripted dialogue. Luana Velia’s Luz is perhaps the most impressive as she moves from traumatized to airy and light to terrified to angry with a precision and skill that can be stunning. She is matched by Jan Blurhardt as Dr. Rossini in ways I don’t want to dig into for fear of spoiling too much of the film. Needless to say, each performance is as perfect as it could possibly be. That includes Julia Riedler as the aggressive bar patron Nora, Nadja Stubiger as determined Detective Bertillion and Johannes Benecke, the translater Olarte who really picked the wrong night to show up for work.

Luz opened theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, July 19 and opens wider this weekend. If it’s playing anywhere near you, you need to go see this film.

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