Rounding out last week’s list of must-see Cinepocalypse screenings was Gonzalo Calzada’s Luciferina, and boy was I excited about it. The only available trailer for the Spanish language film doesn’t even have English subtitles, and I was still excited about it. So with no idea of what to expect beyond a satanic ritual and a stoic, goat-headed demon, I bought my ticket for Luciferina’s North American premiere.
Here’s the thing: you can’t win ‘em all, y’know?
Looking back, it sure does make a lot of sense that the trailer doesn’t give away many details to the film’s actual plot, because Luciferina is nothing if not complicated. I mean, you know what they say about hindsight. It’s better or whatever.
Our main character on this journey is Natalia, a nun-in-training who almost immediately reveals an absolutely insane and useless ability to go blind and see a glowing light behind people. She heads home after her father kills her demon-possessed mother, and we’re introduced to a whole mess of relatively unimportant characters, from a brooding love interest to Natalia’s goth sister and her abusive boyfriend.
At some point it’s decided that the whole crew is going to travel into the jungle together to participate in an ayahuasca ritual for spiritual healing, but maybe also for physical healing. That was never clear to me. Needless to say, the ritual doesn’t go super well for everyone involved, and before you know it, demons are eating eyeballs, decrepit nuns are performing exorcisms, and you find yourself forgetting a time before Natalia was fully nude.
New layers were added to the plot with such frequency that at a certain point, our favorite exorcist nun all but turns to the camera in an attempt to desperately deliver as many minutes of exposition as she can before the director can cut away.
If you’ve ever seen or heard of the film Southland Tales, you’re probably aware of its reputation for being a convoluted mess. It is, in fact, so convoluted that they had to release three supplementary graphic novels just to fill in the gaps. While Luciferina is nowhere near as complicated as Southland Tales, it’s still the kind of film that leaves you feeling like you must have missed something along the way.
Though obviously not the flawless masterpiece I was hoping for, Luciferina was far from a failure. The locations were beautiful and atmospheric, and while several characters deserved better deaths than they got, the entire cast gave strong performances.
There were plenty of jump scares in the film’s nearly two hour run time, but Luciferina truly excelled in its tense and disturbing moments. There’s a particular scene, experienced through one of Natalia’s visions, where several nuns help a possessed woman give birth in a chapel. The entire sequence is intense and horrifying and will probably haunt me for as long as I live, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a horror movie. I definitely could have used a few more of those moments and about 90% less interpretive sex exorcism. Sexorcism.
In the simplest terms, I liked it until I didn’t. It was good until it wasn’t. Luciferina wasn’t perfect, but it was far from awful and somehow, that’s even more frustrating. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the graphic novels.