Luz: The Flower of Evil—A Meditation on Fanaticism, Faith and Folk Horror

Luz: The Flower of Evil is a folk horror written and directed by Juan Diego Escobar Alzate. Far into the Columbian mountains, a small group of devoted followers adheres to the guidance of their leader El Señor. Following the death of their matriarch, we see that El Señor has been busy trying to resurrect the land around them and bring forth a new dawn of peace and providence. The five small graves adorning the hillside suggest that this has been a difficult process. El Señor brings another new Messiah, who brings forth a wave of destruction that will change their lives forever.

Luz: The Flower of Evil is, from the very opening sequence, beautiful and wild, mingling death and rebirth, fantasy and reality. An enormous moon hangs over the remote farm, and cartoonish rainbows haunt the sky as the horrors unfold below. Uma, Laila, and Zion dress in candy-coloured, old-fashioned gowns, and their surroundings are cast in vivid relief. It is a Technicolor fever dream, washed in sunshine. This contrasts evocatively with the growing darkness in the group. This darkness increases when the boy is imprisoned on the farm. That you shouldn’t have to chain God to keep him with you does not seem to occur to the increasingly unstable El Señor.

Movie poster for uz: The flower of Evil

Misogyny, as is generally the case in cults and organised religious groups, runs deep in El Señor’s community. Revered as angels, his daughters must adhere to the unattainable standards of perfection imposed on them. The men, whilst worshipping them as holy, and untouchable, covet them and devour them with their eyes from afar. When their perfection is challenged by the revelation that they are human beings with bodily functions, violence erupts. It reminds us that even an angel isn’t safe from wickedness and that perfection is a gilded, lonely cage. The treatment of the women throughout highlights that those who claim to hear God the loudest are often the greatest hypocrites.

The closed, heavily religious nature of the group ensures that everyone keeps secrets. Laila and her forbidden treasure. It is Uma who experiences and must mask, the first throes of sexual desire, Zion who holds the knowledge of her father’s wickedness and the brutality that comes with the acquisition of their new messiah. The temptations and desires of these women are a reminder that you can’t subvert and suppress your nature forever. Doing so only creates a powder keg, as pious restriction battles with sensuality and a desire for freedom.

Religious fervour is often an easy bedfellow with horror, as we have seen in films such as Saint Maud. El Señor’s unrelenting faith shares similarities with the self-flagellating punishment of Saint Maud. However, he externalises his crisis onto those around him, rather than internalising it. That he is unwilling to make the ultimate sacrifice reminds us of Abraham’s willingness to murder Issac. This reinforces that women often engage in self-punishment of wickedness. Zion sees her crisis of faith as the cause of Uma’s decline. In contrast, men make sacrificial lambs. El Señor believes he holds the power of life and death, as a result, his daughters must fight to survive his zealotry.

Close up of a goat in Luz

Throughout the film, we are never sure if we are seeing true divine intervention, the Devil, or El Señor’s the paranoid delusions. El Señor is an interesting character, charismatic, as all cult leaders must be, narcissistic and grandiose. Although, he can deliver beautiful sermons, he is also capable of violent assault. He can twist the minds of his daughters to keep them prisoners under his thumb, whilst weeping for his wife. His certainty that he alone knows the truth of God has led his community into ruin. We sees this in the sad faces of dirty and bedraggled farm workers throughout. They look to him to provide his promised miracles, when he fails, he descends into rage and paranoia, madness and depravity. Consequently, his flock are losing faith, and the belief that they can sustain their way of life. Much like The Wicker Man this need to protect a dying way of life drives El Señor to increasing acts of sacrifice.

Folk horror is experiencing somewhat of a revival, following the release of Midsommar. As a folk horror fanatic, I could not be happier. Discussion often centres on the Big Three (Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man), a trio I have written about previously. This is no bad thing. However, we have to date experienced an overwhelmingly Eurocentric image of folk horror. It is always refreshing to see a broader take on the genre from a different temporal, geographical and cultural perspective.

All of my favourite aspects of folk horror are here. A group living in voluntary isolation, in this case in remote mountains instead of a craggy Scottish island. An older patriarchal figure dominates the group, something I would love to see subverted in future offerings. The group commune with nature throughout, living on and with the land. They intertwine these practices with their traditional Christian beliefs, adding an interesting dimension to the film. El Señor is the eventual architect of his own downfall, in an interesting take on the genre, that provides a different perspective. It is interesting to see a group internally devolving, rather than the trope of outsiders being subjected to a cult’s beliefs. The sacrifice is coming from inside the house in Luz and it is a delight to witness.

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Written by Megan Kenny

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