A Film that Feels Like it Was Made in an 80’s Anxiety and Stored in a Closet for the Last 35 Years
DIRECTED BY TILLMAN SINGER/2019
There is a dialogue that every film has with its viewers that requires trust. Will the viewer understand the film? Will the tone lose them? Is the director willing to lose those who can’t keep up to gain a more niche but passionate audience with the ones he or she touches? And in reverse, can the audience trust this filmmaker?
I thought of that while watching Luz, the debut film from Tillman Singer. Especially that last point. It reminded me of English film critic Mark Kermode talking about the first time he watched Evil Dead. Of course Sam Raimi has gone on to be one of the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood, from Spiderman to a Wizard of Oz sequel, and he’s the nicest guy you’ll meet, but when Evil Dead came out in 1981, no one had a clue who he was. Kermode talks about watching the movie and wondering if he was in safe hands, where is this film taking them and can he trust the ride. This isn’t Spielberg or some other known director. This could be a lunatic with a camera.
I don’t know Tillman Singer. I don’t know this person’s age, gender, nationality and I went in completely blind. And the roller coaster I was taken on did very little to help me realize who this person was on the surface, but rather was taken on a deep exploration into their mind.
From the beginning, you are introduced to two major factors that’ll be with you the whole movie. Grainy 16mm footage and an 80’s-inspired synth score. I young woman with a backwards baseball cap walks into a police station. Instead of panicking and running to the clerk with an emergency, she simply grabs a soda from a vending machine and asks the clerk, “Is this how you want to spend your life?” The camera never cuts from the two-shot it begins with and the movie makes you a lonely visitor in this station, watching the bizarreness from a far. The dialogue and the actions are so unconventional that cinematic touches, including simple cuts, may pull that feeling of disorientation out of you.
From there, the movie has a sequence of scenes that you may see in a short film. And take that not as a slight, as I later learned this was created to be a studies thesis film. When it was expanded to a feature, it feels like the amount of scenes remained the same, yet stretched out to a haunting conclusion.
Telling too much of the plot would be simply too much into spoilers, as so little basic story happens. But know this is a possession film, very little is explained, and who is the host and not the host of can be misleading. Characters continue to get pulled in, reenactments of scenes you have heard about from earlier are shown, and moments so creepy that the horror matches the confusion. Also know this movie is simply a mood piece, with the suffocating danger of every little moment feeling like it can crush the audience.
A close companion may be recent films like Under the Skin or Beyond the Black Rainbow. But in comparison, this film may feel smaller and a touch more amateurish, only because of the budget restrictions. If nothing else, this is a calling card for Singer. Singer takes that calling card and slams it on the table and makes sure you will remember, for the future, the name Tillman Singer. Whoever this person may be.