Tag Archives: demon

LUZ: Film Review

LUZ. Country, Germany. Director: Tilman Singer. Screenwriter: Tilman Singer. Cast: Luana Velis, Jan Bluthardt, Julia Riedler, Nadja Stubiger, Johannes Benecke, Lili Lorenz. Language: German, Spanish. Runtime: 70 minutes. Venue: IFC Center, NYC, NY. Rating: B

The ironically titled Luz opens with a wide shot of a police precinct. A woman practically drags herself in, serves herself a soda, and is about to leave when she blurts out an incomprehensible question to the clerk in the lobby. When he doesn’t reply, she repeats the question in an ear-splitting shriek. And that sets the tone for Tilman Singer’s college project-turned movie Luz, which hit its (very) limited release last week in NYC, LA, and other cities around the country for its one to two week engagement.

The woman in question is Luz, a cab driver, but we’ll get back to her in a bit. The movie cuts to a scene in a bar where a blond woman named Nora (Julia Riedler) is eyeballing a man (Jan Bluthardt) nursing a drink. She aggressively hits on him, but her intentions are a bit murky at best. She proceeds to tell the man, who we learn is Dr. Rossini, a story of a woman she knew back in Chile named Luz. Both she and Luz performed some Satanic ritual to summon up a demon, and now it wants Luz. Dr. Rossini seems completely hypnotized by Nora’s gaze (hypnosis will figure prominently from here on), and allows her to lead him to the bathroom, where some weird exchange takes place. [It sure seems like she’s masturbating him, but we don’t get to see that — only his shaking body after she kisses him and sends in a bright light into his horrified, gaping mouth.

Weird enough? Don’t worry; it gets better. Back at the precinct, Dr. Rossini is about to commence a regression therapy to extract a confession from Luz. Luz, who has been up to now incoherently babbling some reverse prayer in Spanish, begins to recount how it is that she got to this place. And then. Singer lets whatever was hinted in the background take center stage, and we’re in the middle of a hazy nightmare shot in thick shades of grey fog that continue to suggest something evil is in the midst, more felt than seen, seconds from announcing itself.

Singer never lets Luz go off the rails like most other possession horror movies do because of a need to raise the body count and produce shock after shock for shock purposes alone. There is a thick pulse running through the film, and it reaches an early peak before plateauing somewhere in the middle, then building again until the movie reaches its nightmarish conclusion. I don’t think that it could have been scarier than it was, though. This is exactly the type of fucked up shit our minds and subconscious throws at us while we dive deep into sleep, and when we wake up, we can’t quite place the pieces together. In that sense, Luz “makes sense” and illuminates a dark event reaching its natural conclusion. It will produce shivers and a sense of unreality. And frankly, this is all I need for a movie like Luz to take effect. It’s sparse set, minimal players, and brief running time give it the right amount of dread needed to make Singer’s film be a memorable entry into both the cinematic world and the horror genre.

A DARK SONG

 

A DARK SONG
Ireland / UK
Director: Kiam Gavin
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: English

3/5

This has been a year of mildly good horror movies that satisfy but not in any way memorable — certainly not like the terrifying The Eyes of My Mother, to name one. A Dark Song hails from a country that has produced some truly disturbing pictures, and when it premiered at the IFC it was shown as a double-bill with The Kill List, a movie that if you haven’t seen it, you should, it;s that good. Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song navigates a fine line between the real and not real in telling its story of a young mother determined to summon up dark forces to bring her dead son back from the dead.

From the word go, the mood is a little unnerving. Steve Oram, seen previously in 2012’s Sightseers with Alice Lowe (herself seen earlier this Spring in Prevenge which you can catch via Shudder, by the way), plays his warlock/wiccan role with an almost frightening intensity and subjects co-star Catherine Walker into what seems to be a form of boot-camp for the magically inclined before sealing the house they’ve rented far, far from the world, and commencing with the ritual. At first we don’t see too much happening and there are stretches of time where all we get are the two characters bickering at each other, and in one uncomfortable scene, an act that technically amounts to visual rape, where Oram orders Walker to remove her clothing — not for anything magical, but to simply masturbate.

Once the paranormal starts manifesting itself, the movie takes a turn and one scene in particular is a cut above the rest. We see Walker approaching a couch that may or may not have a dark figure sitting on it, apparently having a smoke. As she gets closer, it becomes clearer and clearer that something is in the room with her, looking at her with unknown intent, but a slight change of the angle, and poof! The thing, whatever it was, is gone. Nothing like this matches the sense of dread that has been building up — partly because Oram’s Joseph is so mentally volatile and Walker’s Sophia oscillates between wanting something very badly and disbelieving of it all since nothing has actually happened of note. It’s the age-old saying that horror movies are at their best when they withhold rather than show and in this aspect, A Dark Song uses this to great effect, until the denouement arrives, and then it just becomes another typical horror flick that almost went over and into the abyss but stopped just short.






HOUSE OF HORRORS: Under the Shadow and The Invitation

undertheshadow

 

Whoever said horror was a genre gone South clearly hasn’t been paying attention. I mean let’s face it, for every Annabelle or Paranormal/Last Exorcism rehash that (allegedly) attempts to scare the living daylights out of you and succeeds only in either a) putting you to sleep, b) screaming a the television to characters too stupid to live or c) actually contemplating throwing your smart TV out the window in a fit of rage and rushing out into the night to commit some act of mayhem (inside your head, never in the flesh, we are all Walter Mittys at heart, heh-heh), there often comes one or two smaller ventures either straight out of Sundance, SXSW or other film festivals and sneaks into select art-house theaters. There these movies, dripping atmospheric dread to spare and leaving any CGI or green screen effect to a bare minimum (a throwback to Lewton and even J-Horror), singlehandedly manage to creep right under the skin and stay with you as if they were a cinematic version of Morgellen’s disease.

And that’s a good thing. No one wants to see a movie, no matter how good it is, and barely even recall it days later. If and when you see a horror movie that vanishes into thin air moments after the credits roll, call it a night and watch some creepy pastas on YouTube.

From Iran and currently showing at the Montclair Film Festival after having debuted at Sundance, SXSW and New Directors/New Films in March comes is Babak Anvari’s debut feature film Under the Shadow, a truly eerie story of an oppressed woman dealing with a mysterious force from outside in wartime Tehran. Shideh is an unconventional Iranian woman: she won’t use the chador in the house, she exercises to Jane Fonda VCRs (the story takes place in the late 80s), and she’s given support to a liberal cause. It’s the cause that has landed her in hot water when reapplying for medical school. Because of this, the doors to a higher education close on her. Her husband fares better, being called off to war to work as a doctor and leaves Shideh alone with her daughter Dorsa.

Once alone, whatever was out of kilter starts to manifest itself: Dorsa’s doll goes missing. Outside, missiles fall upon the city, leaving terrorized residents to seek protection from fallout in basement shelters. A missile actually manages to fall into Shideh’s apartment building, landing on the floor above, but ominously does not go off. It does, however, leave a crack in her ceiling . . . and with it, something invisible and ominous starts to manifest inside Shideh’s apartment, with unknown intent.

When it becomes clear that the must leave the apartment, Dorsa’s doll goes missing and Dorsa herself starts talking to an unseen person. It’s here when Babak Anvari ratches up the tension with some truly frightening jump-scares along the way, all the while keeping the story’s location grounded in Iranian reality (for example, an attempt by Shideh to leave the house with Dorsa from the unexplained presence which seems to be getting stronger within the minute lands her in the wrong hands of the law because she did not have her chador on. In many ways, Under the Shadow could very well, like The Babadook, be a horror allegory encompassing female oppression at the hands of forces outside her control. While the heroine in Babadook was fighting a metaphysical manifestation of her own grief, Shideh seems to be fighting against her country and it’s anti-woman laws itself. under the guise of a disembodied thing seeking to come in and wreck havoc.

Under the Shadow is a strong debut and a well-composed visual piece. Even at its brief run — a mere 80 minutes not counting end credits — and treading over familiar horror tropes, it doesn’t feel stale or go for cheap shocks, and takes its own time to get the wheels rolling. It’s amazing what lighting can do to a place: Anvari slowly turns Shideh’s apartment from a relatively safe haven into dark corridors, pools of shadows, and I on more than one occasion kept myself at the edge of  my seat waiting for something. I didn’t know what — I just knew something could appear, anywhere. That to me makes a horror movie memorable, and this picture is dread in the flesh.

[Under the Shadow as of this writing doesn’t have a release date.]

invitation

Imagine you’re invited to go to a gathering with friends. Once you get there, you get a sense that despite how nice, pleasant, and polite everyone seems, something is not right. Imagine that your hostess also seems to be playing up the “everything is perfect” role — almost to a shrill fault — even when you can clearly see that it’s an act from a mile away.

Will and Kira (Logan Marshall-Green and Emayatzy Corinealdi) are en route to the Hollywood Hills to meet up for a dinner party thrown by his former wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michael Huisman). We get some backstory that Eden and Will lost their son and Will hasn’t seen Eden since, and even before he and Kira arrive he seems on edge. Almost as if summoned, they strike a coyote with their vehicle and Will has no choice but to beat it to death with a blunt object.

Once at the party, things proceed smoothly, but Will continues to be something of an odd-man out. It is understandable since this was his former home and memories linger rather vividly, but there’s an odd giddiness to it all that seems off kilter. A party guest unwittingly becomes the receiver of Eden’s out of nowhere violence early on, but she continues to behave almost in a state of a high. And then, David brings out a video that seems to be selling a concept of a cult and suicide. What’s going on here? Some are intrigued, and one guest who leaves early, upon seeing how intent David and Eden are into presenting this alternative belief to their guests, expresses her discomfort into what seems to be a cult belief. And there is a guest no one knows from, a man who charmingly tells everyone about his wife’s death.  And a girl who continuously tries to throw herself onto Will and looks . . . a little loopy.

Director Karyn Kusama keeps everything very much under control for a long stretch of her story but the sense of dread reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby permeates the entire mise-en-scene. As the party changes gears ever so subtly from simple to sinister and even we question if Will is all there or perhaps about to suffer some mental breakdown, Kusama suddenly yanks the rug from under you and the gloves are off. The Invitation’s slow escalation takes a hard turn left and as all the pieces fall into place, the real reason for them all being there explodes in everyone’s faces. This is a very good horror film that points the finger at the dangers of drinking the Kool Aid; it’s tense, moody, and equal parts terrifying because it presents a situation that could and has happened before.