Directed by: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate. Starring: Yuri Vargas, Sharon Guzman, Andrea Esquivel. Runtime: 1h 44 min. Released: September 15, 2020 (in U.S. and Canada, on VOD).
In Juan Diego Escobar Alzate’s feature debut, Luz: The Flower of Evil, there’s a focus on man corrupting nature and corrupting everything he touches. This man is a preacher called El Señor (Conrado Osorio) who leads a small commune in the mountains. One day, he brings back a child he calls Jesús (Johan Camacho) who will be the new Messiah. Coinciding with this, his “daughters” Uma (Yuri Vargas), Zion (Sharon Guzman) and Laila (Andrea Esquivel), who is his only birth daughter, are coming-of-age and begin to challenge his teachings.
This aspect of the film challenging him is fascinating, especially when Laila finds a music player in the woods and El Señor claims that this is “the devil’s music.” There’s a lovely discussion by the three “sisters” as they discuss what she found and discuss a music box given to them by their mother, the titular Luz. Luz’s presence is felt throughout the film, as some members of the commune believe her death has brought bad luck to the small commune as the tree where El Señor buried her has not yet bloomed.
In mood, you can really feel writer/director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate’s passion for nature and how much he has thought about these themes in the film, especially with duality. The film itself is gorgeous, shot by Nicolás Caballero Arenas and filmed in the mountainous coffee-region of Manizales in Colombia. Landscape shots feel as beautiful as the ones seen in Monos and even in the dramatic moments, everything feels vibrant in visuals. Luz is an example of a film made on a small budget that can look just as beautiful, or more so, as many other films with a larger budget. Natural lighting here is also memorable, especially scenes only lit by campfires or starlight.
The performances are so strong, too. Conrado Osorio is great as the commune’s leader trying to keep everything together. Johan Camacho has a wordless performance as the young Messiah and shines in the role. I’d call it a physical performance, but he is mostly still for the film, only acting with expressions. The three daughters are great, too.
Their innocence is lovely and them challenging and trying to grow is a cool aspect to watch as this film explores that coming-of-age aspect. Laila is the film’s constant narrator, narrating with prose in a way that complements the film’s mystical feel, especially when the sound design has an echo-y vibe. Escobar Alzate truly has a way with words in these narration moments that are more poetry than story building, even if I didn’t always understand the significance of these words.
Escobar Alzate has described the film as more than a film, as a “gateway to Hell and entrance to Heaven,” as it has true spiritual underlying throughout. The film is a slow-burn with a bigger focus on its fantasy and intense drama than horror, though it is described as folk horror. It’s frightening in the way of learning about man’s capabilities. I think with making it a slow-burn and just making its mood the most integral part – as well as performances and visuals – it sacrifices power in its story as the beats become repetitive of challenging El Señor to only get oppressed, and rinse and repeat.
I did love the film’s vibe and that’s what it strives for, and the performances and visuals help it get by. The music’s lovely, too, trying to lull us into a false sense of security from the beginning because it sounds so fantastical. There’s always something ominous, whether it be on-screen or in El Señor’s head. “Nature does not cause pain, only humans do,” El Señor says to Yuri Vargas’ Uma when she says she tells him she was hit by a branch. This line alone really gets to the root of Diego Escobar Alzate’s themes.