‘Luzifer’ Review: Finding the Devil in Everything

In Peter Brunner’s “Luzifer,” a mother and her adult son, Maria and Johannes, live isolated from society in a remote alpine cabin. Maria (Susanne Jensen) is a recovering alcoholic who turned to religion to escape her vices, and imparts the lessons of a pious existence onto Johannes (Franz Rogowski), who functions on the developmental level of a child. The two spend their days subsistence farming, or engaged in deep prayer and sacred rituals.

When a developer arrives in the area to build a ski lift for tourists, the pastoral life of this family is threatened. Maria receives angry calls about selling her land, but when she refuses, the developers’ tactics become violently aggressive. She falls ill, ostensibly from the emotional turmoil, and Johannes must save her.

“Luzifer” conjures palpable unease, rattling the nervous system. The cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg renders this world with an icy aura. The entire film feels enveloped in a cold fog, and at times, haunting images, like a mutilated corpse in a nearby lake, flash by. Tim Hecker’s spectral score pierces the drama throughout, immersing us in a disturbing, transfixing universe.

This thriller is ambitious, contemplating the sinister and possessive grip of religious fanaticism; the dangers of capitalist greed; the reverberations of Oedipal desire; familial trauma and abuse, among other themes. But its intellectual aspiration produces an ideologically crowded film, where each philosophical meditation struggles to receive the attention and depth it deserves. Perhaps that is the point: Brunner seems to want to leave us with more questions than answers — or at least, compel us to search for the devil in everything.

Luzifer
Not rated. In German, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. Watch on Mubi.

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