In the mad dash to gobble down as many potential Best of the Year List contenders as possible before we start making ranking our personal favorites films of 2019, only one last-minute title has jumped out at me as a worthy dark horse entry. The bewildering thing is that it’s a student film, the thesis project of first-time director Tilman Singer. A 70min genre exercise with a small cast and just a few sparse locations, Luz is maybe the most unassuming indie gem from 2019 to achieve such a sublime must-see cinematic effect. Its ability to hypnotize & disorient an audience into a state of total delirium in just an hour’s time is a commendable act of cinematic black magic, an effect unmatched by any other last-minute 2019 catch-ups I’ve flooded my brain with in recent weeks.
This barebones genre gem is a story of demonic possession. A visibly shaken, scraped-up cab driver is held for questioning at what appears to be a late-1970s police station. Apparently driven mad by an encounter with her last customer, the cabbie is subjected to hypnotism at the hands of a creepy doctor under the cops’ employ for further interrogation. Unbeknownst to anyone in the room, the doctor is possessed by a demon who is obsessed with our dazed cabbie, waiting for its most opportune moment to strike. We cut between the interrogation, the ill-fated cab ride, the dive bar where the doctor became possessed, and the Catholic school where the cabbie first encountered the demon in a disorienting kaleidoscope of narratives that only becomes creepier the more they shift & overlap.
On an aesthetic level, Luz is a thoroughly pleasant genre throwback indulgence in all the ways you’d expect: grimy celluloid grain, analog synth score, candlelit Satanic rituals, the full works. There are plenty of other movies that can deliver that exact brand of Euro-horror genre nostalgia, though. What really stands out here to me is the narrative ambitions that disorient time & place with an aggressive, deranged fervor. As the story’s various competing fractions combine into one sharp-edged mosaic, the film achieves a deranged, sweaty, deliriously horny nightmare that all demonic possession media strives for, but few titles ever achieve. The closest comparison point I have for its accomplishments are the supernatural horrors of giallo greats like Argento & Bava in titles like Suspiria & Kill Baby Kill. That’s an impressive echelon for a film school thesis project to sneak into, which alone makes Luz stand out as one of the year’s most unexpected treasures.