It’s a Horror Show!
Octavio Ramos Jr. is a lifelong fan of all things horror. In his teens, he began to write reviews of horror movies. Since college, he has been writing fiction in the horror genre, as well as writing reviews and commentary on every facet of horror for magazines such as Video Vista, The Zone, Horrorshow, and Albuquerque Horror Examiner. Contact him for movie reviews and interviews at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luciferina: Exploring what makes us human—life and death, good and evil, and religious dogma and ancient forces
By Octavio Ramos Jr.
Set for release in December 2018, Luciferina is Argentina’s entry into the possession genre, and what a doozy it is. Written and directed by Gonzalo Calzada (whose previous films include 2015’s Resurrection and 2012’s The Clairvoyant’s Prayer), Luciferina taps into some of the cliché trapping of the possession genre, but such trappings serve as little more than groundwork. Instead, Calzada pushes into much darker territory, exposing humanity’s ancient yearning to understand what and why we exist. The answers that this movie comes to may be vague, as they should be, leaving viewers wondering about the nature of life and death, good and evil, and what comes down to religious dogma when compared to forces that seem to have endured from the beginning of time itself.
After a short introduction that shows the conception and birth of a baby, the story begins with 19-year-old Natalia (played well by Sofia Del Tuffo), who works as a novice in a modern-day convent. From the very beginning, Natalia is shown as conflicted. She wholeheartedly believes in Christianity, but she is also sexually aroused and tempted by love.
After apparently breaking up with a boy at the convent (he no longer has the “glow”), Natalia is summoned by the Mother Superior, who informs her that her parents have been involved in a terrible “accident.” Natalia fears to return home, and when she mentions this to the Mother Superior, she is rebuked, told that the Convent is not a “hiding place.”
Natalia soon learns that Angela, her abusive boyfriend Mauro (Francisco Donovan), and several other friends are going into the Argentinean jungle, where they claim they have found a shaman who can cure all their psychologically-driven ills. Interestingly, the group study (or previously studied) psychology at the local college. Moreover, each suffers from a medical or psychological condition, hence the desire to be cured by a new method, as secular methods have failed.
The group eventually makes it to the shaman, who apparently uses an abandoned asylum next to dilapidated church to perform a “rite” that uses ayahuasca, a psychotropic drug used in traditional spiritual medicine. The Spaniards who saw such rites during the 16th century called such rites “the work of the devil,” which this film takes advantage of.
Rather than cure the participants, the drug enables a long-dormant demon (perhaps the devil himself) to step forward and reveal its master plan. The bulk of the movie then explores why Abel (Pedro Merlo) was born possessed, how he is intertwined with the fate of Natalia, and why Natalia can perceive the auras (light or dark) of people she sees. More importantly, the movie also reveals the meaning of “Luciferina” (easy enough) and how it is tied to what humans call good an evil (not so easy, but very interesting).
The climax sequences include an extended battle between Natalia and Hermana Gregoria (Marta Lubos), a nun who has been waiting a generation for this conflict, with the possessed Abel. The end sequence, in which Natalia and Abel/demon have sex, will surprise most in the audience, not so much for explicitness but for what it attempts to say about sexual repression and the expression of evil. The movie’s coda opens up an opportunity for a sequel—indeed, Calzada has hinted at a trilogy in keeping with Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, except this one will be done Argentinean style.
As a writer-director, Calzada represents a new wave in the international horror genre. Calzada’s script for Luciferina is effective, with crisp dialogue and effective choices in the flow of one scene to another. Calzada’s characters are well done, with his teenagers three-dimensional and articulate, unlike many American renditions. The writer-director also has a knack for evoking tension and outright horror. The one problem with the movie overall is that some scenes last much too long, so that the tension is lessened.
The movie’s special effects, a combination of practical blood and gore effects and CGI sequences, work very well, actually adding to the story. The actors are all effective, although some of the secondary cast have thankless roles.
The biggest likely drawback to Luciferina is its principal theme, which many viewers may miss outright. Those that do catch it may only catch one or two facets. The movie’s longer sequences may also cause viewers to lose interest after a while, and even a good theme only captivates those who are willing to go along for the ride.
The principal theme, as I see it, is that humanity has succumbed to the secular, using psychology, therapy, and pharmaceuticals to address what ails the most vulnerable, its young people. To “demonize” human nature—namely, sexual exploration, bringing forth life, and celebrating what it is to be human—through first religious dogma and second secularism leads to becoming lost in ancient forces willing to take advantage of such repression. In one interesting sequence, Abel gives Natalia a watch so she will not become lost. In turn, Natalia gives Abel a cross for the same purpose. Interestingly, neither the secular or religious can save the couple, as only an understanding of far more ancient forces (even those past the shaman’s knowledge) in the end can save the couple and of course humanity itself.
The movie is also a celebration of life. Abortion has always been the tool of evil, further back than even the ideas brought forth by contemporary religions. The occult celebrates the murder of babies, demons manifest within women who succumb to believing that abortion is justifiable, and it is often men who take a lead role in the corruption and justification of murder of the young. This may be a tough theme for some watching the movie, but it does not come off as preachy, instead using visuals and some verbal cues rather than extended sermons to get its point across. Also uncomfortable for some is the film’s extended climax, which involves a lengthy sex sequence between Natalia and Abel.
The idea that Luciferina is the literal “Lucifer,” a light bringer, is startlingly obvious and brilliant at the same time. The religious explanation of Lucifer, even brought into the realm of the secular, makes the figure evil (and male). Natalia represents Luciferina as a literal “bringer of light” (women only can conceive), a concept going back further than Wicca, where women are the light and men are sometimes considered “The Horned God.”
What makes Calzada and Luciferina worth watching is that the movie criticizes both sides. The movie is critical of religion and secularism, but it is also critical of the supernatural and the occult. The creation of ideologies around what is good and what is evil makes for a distinct exploration, particularly in a horror film. Perhaps what is truly horrible is that this movie presents viewers with long-suppressed truths that as humans we simply dare not recall. It’s a pretty heady message, which may be the reason some reviewers have called Calzada’s genre “art-house horror.”
Yes, Luciferina has a few flaws, but in my opinion it is the first film to rank as high as America’s The Exorcist in terms of visceral horror and understated terror for a possession film. For this reason alone it’s worth a viewing for most fans of the genre.
Note: The movie is in Spanish, although English subtitles are provided. The Blu-Ray version comes with a theatrical trailer.