Julius Onah’s ‘meaningful’ psychological thriller pits Octavia Spencer’s suspicious history teacher against Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s titular model student, an ex-child soldier from Eritrea who’s been adopted, more than a decade ago, by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth’s white couple in Virginia, USA. Based on J.C.Lee’s play which he now co-adapts with Onah, this full movie is very ambitious movie that promisingly sets the scene in a most ambiguous manner by keeping us in the dark about the motivations of either party. Is the teacher prejudicial against the student of watching movie online ? Or is the student a psychopath plotting something sinister? With the help of an eerily percussive musical score, it does a great job wrenching up tensions and creates a heavy sense of foreboding that permeates throughout the film.
However it is so intent in dragging out this mystery, the plotting becomes frustratingly contrived and unconvincing. Especially in the unnecessarily oscillating allegiances of Luce’s parents. Despite solid performances by its cast, especially Harrison and his million-watts smile that’s both innocently charismatic and dead-behind-the-eyes menacing at the same time. The script’s structure is based almost entirely on the adults’ (re)actions and relies too much on their sudden and unexplained change of hearts to keep its momentum going while the kids’ actions and capabilities remain unclear, if not inconsistent. Not content with dealing with race and white liberal guilt, it throws in an alleged sexual assault into the mix with Andrea Bang’s Stephanie Kim and the film ends up overstuffed and ideologically muddled. It clearly strives to be thought-provoking but I’m left confused as to what exactly it’s trying to say while the less than satisfying ending merely comes across as glib and sensationalist at best, and open to very dodgy and extremist interpretation at worst. Free download Luce (2019) from Filmxy.