Luz: The Flower of Evil is a sort of Southwestern The Wicker Man. It is also the third film of Glasgow 2020 I have published a review of in which I refer to its “pastoral nature” uplifting its “overall dullness.” In this case, at least the dullness is occasionally interrupted by violent outbursts, which are occasionally satisfying. This pattern I am noticing also awakens a message to filmmakers everywhere: your film being pretty to look at does not guarantee that you made a good movie.
The premise, which the film itself forgets, is given as “a mountain town preacher, El Señor, who’s daughters’ faith in religion begins to waver in face of a horrific loss that strikes the family.” El Señor searches for Jesus in five young boys, chaining and hurting them in hopes that they will become the next savior. His daughter hangs laundry and falls into a realm of domesticity as he does this. It’s a contrast between the profound and mundane, but here the mundane is much more appealing.
The genre-bending western is not a new concept, and is perhaps what keeps the genre alive. Spanning from an early inception with Jodorowsky‘s El Topo to last year’s abortion drama Little Woods, the classic western is ready to be toyed with an modernized once the boundaries of pure one-genre cinema are lifted. When we enter pure horror the film is at its best, with Holy Mountain style images of the chained prophets beaten by the crazed rancher. When the film leans too heavily on western tropes and falls away from its horror edge, it instead grows mawkish and eye-rolling.
There’s also a major misogyny problem. Within the juvenile dialogue, a distaste for female characters is hampered, with key scenes leading to women in the audience interrogating director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate during a post-film Q&A. While we see the young Jesus found in the form of a blind haired blue eyed young boy, the women are not relegated to the same saintlihood. There is the mother, buried beneath the ground where the trees refuse to bloom. And then there are the young girls. The three girls are leered at by the male characters as they swim, but not for any reason with deeper meaning. They are just there as scenery, albeit an interactive kind that is watched with too close an intensity. This leering is male gaze at its finest, and with no commentary, it’s just a repeated way of putting the women down and treating them as sexual objects in a backwards misogynistic mantra of yesteryear.
For a $20k budget, it’s incredibly well put together. The cinematography is rich, the setting luscious, and there are goats! Visually it’s like an oversaturated fairytale children’s book, with interiors that look succulent enough to eat, and skies painted in candy-colored hues beside a leafy blue-green expanse of vegetation. It’s a shame the film set in this world is so poor, because the setting is stunning on it’s own, not to mention the animal cast flitting through the frame.
Perhaps Luz came at an unfortunate moment to gather my ire, or perhaps it does represent so many of the mistakes we have been making in horror as of late. It’s visually astounding with a quirky premise, but then devolves into grating nonsense and self-important shock value to the point where it seems to have no care for the story it wants to tell. Shock and vile imagery are integral in many subsets of the horror genre, but instead of adding meaning or building an effect on the viewer, it just feels self-masturbatory and prideful in it’s cruelty.
The complete lack of restraint is admirable, but does not work in the slightest. Instead of taking an illogical premise and making it work, it takes an illogical premise, applies zero meaning, and then gets mad when the audience gets nothing out of it. It’s the kind of film that takes rampant misogyny and nihilism, plays it to the maximum, then complains that the viewer just didn’t understand when they’re turned off by it. While some may be enamored by the senseless take of a man searching for Christ gone mad, it feels too fetishistic and nihilistic for what it wants to be.