As if exhumed from a tenebrous archive of unholy secrets not meant for a layperson’s eyes, German writer-director Tilman Singer’s succinctly horrifying first-feature, “Luz,” chronicles the passage of a demonic entity across multiple bodies in search of its legitimate host.
Precipitated into a supernatural daze by a mystifying woman in a lugubrious bar, psychotherapist Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) learns about a ritual invocation from decades ago on a distant continent that’s haunting his present. A dynamically engineered hypnosis session, conducted in a police station echoing Lars von Trier’s “Dogville,” brings him to Chilean taxi driver Luz Carrara (Luana Velis), who’s just been involved in an accident connected with her past of religious defiance.
A blasphemous reinterpretation of the Spanish-language version of the Lord’s Prayer (Padre Nuestro) plays as unsettling motif underscoring Bluthardt’s chameleonic slant on possession and Velis’ juvenile persona as bilingual medium. Rather than indulging in vacuous jump-scares, Singer summons moody narrative devices spearheaded by his actors to heighten the feeling that we are submerged in the occult.
Bookended by static wide shots boasting sly bureaucratic normalcy and paved by an entrancingly atmospheric score distilled from audible nightmares, this retro-inspired genre morsel exploits its modest concept magisterially. A handful of locations accentuated by the film’s grainy 16mm cinematography and transformed through top-notch sound design and practical effects vouch for its economical excellence.
One of the most genuinely fear-provoking movies of the year, “Luz” shines for the calculated sensory stimulation it inflicts and its contained intent, as if it had been built to prove omnipresent evil lies unnoticed. It’ll render you unexpectedly rattled.
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Playing: Starts July 19, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena