Luzifer (FANTASTIC) Offers Paltry Downbeat Isolation Horror Drama
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Peter Brunner
Writer: Peter Brunner
Runtime: 103 Minutes
Starring: Franz Rogowski, Susanne Jensen
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival 2021.
Johannes (Franz Rogowski) and his mother (Susanne Jensen) live an isolated existence deep within the mountains. While he explores the world with a childlike naivety and pet eagle always by his side, his mother, hardened by substance abuse and the death of her lover, rejects modernity and civilization. Both out of her deepened spirituality and rationality, she seems to shield Johannes from the vices that plagued her and the people who wish to harm their way of life. This all comes to a head when a ski company pressures them to sell their land and initiates a series of events with reverberating consequences.
Meandering and mundane, Luzifer falls short of delivering on its mystical tale of horror.
This slow-paced and somber story shows how deep the connection between mother and son can be. The leads, Rogowski and Jensen, do a convincing job of portraying their odd relationship despite it veering into the uncomfortable. They capture their characters, but the script doesn’t do them any favors. Rogowski in particular, does a great job of embodying the curiosity and naïveté of a man who has grown up without many influences beyond his mother. Simplistic and repetitive dialogue shows how rote the lifestyle can be while painting the picture of a rough and practical existence.
The vices of the world can poison something simple and what is perceived as good. Alcohol, sex, money, technology, etc are all demonized by the matriarch at one point or another and in turn are then feared by Johannes. The drones are portrayed as the main antagonist in place of humans for much of the film. They carry the wishes of humans that choose to destroy in a way that they never have to really own up to. Symbolizing faceless tools used to threaten and bully those who wish to be left alone they become the perfect encapsulation for everything Johannes is taught to fear.
While it carries much in the name of symbolism and strong themes, Luizfer doesn’t cut it from the storytelling perspective. It takes its time to get going and then never amounts to much of anything. It makes most of its impact elsewhere. Its sound design is frightful and strong. The whirring of the drones feels apocalyptic in a way, much like the horns signaling the arrival of the apocalypse. Great cinematography and eerie visuals keep the film visually interesting even when its story fails to reach the same heights. Wide zoom out shots emphasize the isolation and distance the two have from civilization. Recurring images of a lone tree with a statue inside, marking the burial of Papa, and the constant mud surrounding the cabin and contaminating the water serve as reminders of hopelessness.
I have many issues with the film and many wishes on what to improve. Less ambiguity, even slightly, would go a long way in crafting a more interesting story. I’m up for a good interpretation but I am struggling to see the point here. Are we to believe that people and progress are inherently bad? Is there nobility in rejecting others, even if there are barriers to understanding? I’m glad the film can instigate these discussions but there’s little direction on how to interpret the vast array of themes here. Little things like the insignificance of the church or the eagle, bothered me. They are interesting visual aspects to the film that feel criminally underutilized. This is especially grating considering how much Johannes fawns over both, particularly his eagle.
In the end, Luzifer doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from the thousands of slow burn madness in isolation films. Time and attention went into this film, which is apparent in its sleek aesthetics, strong performances, and intriguing premise. In the end, it just fizzles into something unmemorable and uninteresting, despite its foundations. It doesn’t do it for me personally, but fans of similar films like Gwen and Hagazussa may find a lot to love here. It’s no wonder that there isn’t much buzz about this flick, but ultimately Luzifer will fade into the mist of more interesting international offerings much like its protagonist does.
Overall Score? 4.5/10