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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Luciferina

My notes on Luciferina 

Buried in the end credits of this religious-themed Argentine supernatural horror film is an announcement that this covers only one of ‘the trinity of virgins’, with Inmaculada and Gotica to follow Luciferina – presumably on the model of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers films.  Though it tells a fairly simple, familiar story, the film has to do a bit of spadework to set up its possible trilogy – which stretches it out to nearly two hours, rather over-egging the pudding.  However, it has a quite daring style – with religious frenzy, demonic powers and hallucinogenic drugs influencing the characters, and encouraging writer-director Gonzalo Calzada to include trippy or transgressive stretches.  The climactic exorcism, for instance, involves the virginal heroine seducing the demon possessee on an altar in a sex scene that seems suspended halfway between Ken Russell and Rinse Dream. And an impressively traditional goat devil shows up to do mischief.

 

Natalia (Sofia Del Tuffo), a novice nun, returns home to visit her estranged, dying father (Vando Villamil).  After being reminded of her late mother’s spell of seeming insanity, which led her to produce weird and ominous infernal artwork, Natalia is persuaded to go on a jaunt to a remote island with her more worldly, jittery sister Angela (Malena Sanchez), her abrasive and perpetually angry asshole boyfriend Mauro (Francisco Donovan), student nice guy Abel (Pedro Merlo) and a hippie-ish couple Osvaldo (Gaston Cocchiarale) and Mara (Stefania Koessl).  The party seek a shaman (Tomas Lipan) who is reputed to preside over Castenada-type drug rituals the ruins of a nunnery which was abandoned after an earlier demonic outbreak – Mauro is turned away for not really being in the spirit of the thing but the others lie down in circles of candles and take the drug, which doesn’t lead to enlightenment but to a high body count, visions of Catholic horror movie-style devilitry, typical cases of staring-eyed screaming possession, and dollops of exposition that hint at horrors to come when the next two virgins show up.

 

It’s strong on simply uncomfortable sequences of people getting on each other’s nerves – the left-behind sister, a smart girl who has dropped out of university after hooking up with an idiot, accusing the devout heroine of using her vocation as a way to get out of an unhappy home … Mauro constantly needling Natalia about her sanctity, with a not-unexpected shower rape attempt, and her understated strength – though everyone thinks she’s spent her novitiate praying and being saintly, she’s actually been working with drug addicts and toughened up considerably. Natalia – whose eyes go blank when she has visions — seems destined to become the eponymous Luciferina, but in the meantime plays a trinity of devil movie roles as possessee, exorcist and possible mother of a demon baby.  Most of the characters are one-note – and the appalling Mauro is just in the film to make trouble in the slow spots – but Del Tuffo and Sanchez have subtler roles, playing up the antagonism and the bond between light and dark sisters.  Like a lot of films dealing with spiritual matters, the film assumes that the earthly representatives of angels and demons – an array of priests, nuns and cultists – are venal or inept … but it also implies that the higher powers haven’t really thought their big schemes through either.

 

Here’s the FrightFest listing.

Here’s a trailer.

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