Review: Luzifer

Director: Peter Brunner

Stars: Franz Rogowski, Susanne Jensen, Monika Hinterhuber

Anyone with a even a cursory eye on European cinema at present will have some understanding of what an incendiary presence Franz Rogowski has become over the past few years, with great work evidenced in collaboration with Christian Petzold (twice now) and Sebastian Meise, among others. But even Germany’s answer to Joaquin Phoenix can’t save Peter Brunner’s ponderous horror-lite psychodrama.

Rogowski stars here as Johannes; a grown man with the mind of a child, raised in seclusion in the wilds of Austria with his mother Maria (Susanne Jensen). Johannes has never known civilisation, but as urban development encroaches even their mountainous wilderness with the threat of a new ski resort, their isolated lifestyle seems inevitably doomed.

There’s more than a shade of incestuousness in the bond between mother and son. Maria – tattooed all over – has chosen this lifestyle for the two of them and, both sporting shaven heads, it can be difficult to tell them apart from a distance. What plays out, then, feels like a toxic blend of Leave No Trace and Cronenberg’s similarly mumblesome Spider. For the most part, the threats from without amount to little more than the occasional buzzing of their rundown shack by inquisitive drones; scenes which read as comic rather than sinister or foreboding. These at least resonate against Johannes’ budding interest in falconry. Natural flight versus it’s manmade equivalent; one graceful, the other feeble and faintly silly.

The first hour languishes in this cycle, lionising Johannes departed father and presenting varying versions of the same vaguely unhealthy family dynamic. Religious iconography dangles here and there, but its relevance to Johannes is unreadable. Vaginal cave imagery and splashes of folklore feather a sense of something more mythic lurking in the craggy hillsides, as do Maria’s paganistic tattoos (possibly intended as a kind of inked prophecy) and gothic paraphernalia, but any sense of deeper meaning is corrupted and confused by button-pushing shock tactics in the interplay between mother and son. Johannes’ abrupt seduction by a passing vet (Monika Hinterhuber) only furthers a cycle of nonsensical abuse, neither credible or interesting.

The roiling landscapes – rugged treelines and cascading waterfalls – lend the film a level of majesty it doesn’t earn in other respects. While this may be a deliberate endeavour to cleave beauty from the overall picture, it renders Luzifer as a grim, edgelord-ish parable, cold, uninviting and half-heartedly repellent. And while this may be exactly the response Brunner was aiming for, it doesn’t leave the viewer with much to hold onto. For fantastic encounters on the fringes of our human sprawl, you’re better off sticking with the likes of Border.

4 of 10

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