@ Filmhouse Edinburgh as part of Dead By Dawn 2019

A dishevelled girl called Luz (Luana Velis) enters a police station in what is one of several long static shots in Tilman Singer’s debut feature/film studies thesis. After muttering something cryptic like “Are you happy with your life?” to the oblivious desk clerk, she wanders over to the vending machine in an apparent daze. The film uses a flashback/recreation structure involving improvised re-enactments to allow Luz to explain (to the audience) that she is being pursued by a demonic force.

The demon has inhabited a friend of Luz, Nora (Julia Riedler), who is compelled to seduce “consultant psychologist” Dr Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) to get closer to Luz in the police station. The subsequent interrogation is the most entertaining (if inauthentic) element of the film, as Luz explains how she picked up Nora, reminisced with Nora, then realised something was not right with Nora – so crashed her cab in panic. Rossini uses super-hypnosis on the girl to allow her to regress to the journey and recount and re-enact the events.

With a running time of 70 minutes, Luz never really feels like a film, but more of an experiment in form and substance. While the relatively new cast handle the challenging material with confidence and some skill, there remains the question of if the actual story is worth telling. Demonic possession is a powerful trope which has been presented far more compellingly and creatively throughout the genre, although Singer should be praised for avoiding the fetishisation of the subject that so many filmmakers succumb to.

The use of a period-appropriate location creates the non-specific but definitely retro atmosphere, which is undermined by the misplaced and overused retro-filter to add scratches and artefacts. What may well be a compelling and skilled performance from Luana Velis is buried in confusing direction, which seems unsure of whether to provide a platform for the talent or showcase the chills.

Singer has some interesting ideas and has created striking and effective imagery, but the screenplay lacks emotional intelligence and coherence – although the latter seems to be a deliberate effort to subvert the three-act structure. In amongst the confusion is an allusion to Christianity and the failure of God in a girl’s life, which is encapsulated with the repeated use of a bastardised version of The Lord’s Prayer.

With little gore or chills and a plot that requires constant vigilance due to the fractured narrative, Luz purports to be a more intelligent horror than its competitors, but with so many elements compromised, it veers into pretension. If The Exorcist succeeds because faith is the vital ingredient in the screenplay, then Singer’s relatively simplistic deployment of religiosity is what distinguishes his ambitious but ultimately flawed debut.