In the rural countryside of Juan Diego Escobar Alzate’s Colombian film Luz: The Flower of Evil, a father called El Señor (Conrado Onsorio) chastises his three daughters to avoid the evils of the devil and embrace God through twisted and often-incomprehensible means. The other members of the loosely-connected community see him as a leader and abide by his rules despite the harm they cause. A few years before, Luz, the matriarch of the family, passed away, and her absence is felt throughout the story. The daughters, Uma (Yuri Vargas), Zion (Sharon Guzmán), and Laila (Andrea Esquivel), grapple with the loss of their much-loved maternal figure, and try to attain some pleasure and self-fulfillment in the midst of a terrible home-life, but at each turn, they face brutal obstacles.
The film is ultimately a gorgeously-shot and intensely-constructed portrait of the dangers of patriarchy, of what happens when one man, riddled by unchecked fury and stubbornness, is allowed to dictate laws and annihilate freedoms of those around him. The word for monster comes from the Latin “monstrum,” which according to Online Etymology Dictionary, means “divine omen (especially one indicating misfortune).” It also comes from the word “monere,” meaning “to remind, bring to (one’s) recollection, tell (of); admonish, advise, warn, instruct, teach.” If one takes into account these etymological origins, Luz: The Flower of Evil is a monster movie, and the two central men characters serve as its divine warnings against a patriarchal religious worldview that eats women alive.
It’s hard to know what to make of Luz. It feels like it exists in a world very different from ours, but it could also be a story from our universe set in a community so isolated that superstitions can take root and direct the community. Through El Señor, the film makes its own theological myths where Jesus can come down in the form of a boy (Johan Camacho) that El Señor kidnaps, chains, and leaves out in the elements. The devil’s chant can come through classical music and women can be “angels.” Although an audience member may read the film in a way that disregards major supernatural influences to the events, it’s impossible to get past the way these faiths saturate the family and the briefly-seen people around them. It’s real to them. El Señor is a terror, but he’s just grounded enough that his daughters and the community members believe him and don’t fully resist his proclamations. Patriarchy, traditionally, holds onto its unprovable and harmful assertions by digging its heels into whatever ground it can find as foundation, and El Señor does the same for his absurdist and horrific theology.
Luz is not an easy film to watch; in fact, I had to take breaks from it because a one-sitting watch-through felt impossible. Although this kind of disgust and repulsion that requires breaks may be the mark of an effective horror film, it’s still worth noting. After a particularly brutal rape scene toward the beginning of the film, watching more than 20 minutes at a time felt difficult. As a reviewer who wants to take in a film the way it’s intended—all in one go—I don’t like that I had to do this, but it’s the nature of the film for me. It was best taken in through small portions, ones I could reflect and unpack before moving onto the next part.
For those interested in the patriarchal aspects of Christianity and prepared to watch on-screen sexual and domestic violence, Luz: The Flower of Evil may prove a worthy viewing experience. As difficult as it was, I’m glad I finished it, and I learned a lot about myth-making and unusual visual storytelling approaches. Luz will not be for everyone, and its horrors may hit too close to home to be a worthwhile piece, but it does use its mise-en-scene to construct a meaningful warning call against the patriarchy.
Fractured Visions presents Luz: The Flower of Evil on VOD now and limited edition Blu-ray September 6th
by Bishop V. Navarro
Bishop V. Navarro (they/she) is a poet, writer, and media studies scholar from Tampa, Florida. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and currently pursues a PhD in Communication at USF. Her scholarly work examines boundary vulnerability in horror and science fiction media. You can find her on Twitter, Letterboxd, Instagram, and Tumblr @vnavarrowriter