Watch this as soon as you can…

Despite a seemingly low-stakes premise, this thriller is worth your time. It has thought provoking things to say about some key issues, and still finds the time to keep you invested with gripping twists and turns. Great performances and a memorable score, too, work to make this thriller well worth your time.

The performances are fantastic across the board. Kelvin Harrison Jr. offers the strongest and most layered one as Luce. He can never be placed nor figured out: is that genuine friendliness, or does one detect a hidden anger? This reflects the dual nature of his name: “Luce” meaning “light”, but also short for Lucifer. Is he being truthful or deceptive? One never truly knows, and this mystery keeps you hooked. Octavia Spencer plays his suspicious teacher, determined to get to the truth of Luce’s behaviour. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth play Luce’s two torn parents, struggling to work out whether they truly know their son or not. Every character feels alive and real, and we have performances from a high calibre cast of actors.

So strong are the performances, even the weakest lines of dialogue seem convincing. Regardless, the dialogue could have been much stronger. Based on a play by JC Lee of the same name, you would think the dialogue and the script would be the film’s strongest asset. Yet, many of the lines come across as overly theoretical and contrived. The characters are frequently making good points, but feel essayistic, and inorganic. Another problem is that the script wants to discuss important issues, such as institutional racism, sexual assault and mental health care, and can provoke a lot of thought on these subjects at moments, but the film does not discuss any of them with any depth. Perhaps the film would have benefited from focusing on one, and then have the characters talk about it in a more natural way.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to like here. The score is very effective at creating tension and raising the stakes. This film has been described as a thriller, but if you read a summary of the plot, you may wonder why. No one dies. The main characters are not at risk of a mental breakdown. There is nothing supernatural about the story. In comparison to other thrillers, the stakes will seem quite down to earth and realistic. Instead of finding a gun in a student locker, fireworks are found. Instead of lives, jobs and university places are on the line. Yet, the score keeps tension building. The performances, as said, are superb, and help keep you invested in them and the mystery of whether to believe Luce or Mrs. Wilson. The twists and turns provide a rollercoaster ride, despite the seemingly low-scale plot.

With an interesting mystery to solve and various twists along the way, this thriller is certain to grab your interest and hold it well, even when the dialogue does falter. Backed up by strong performances and a memorable score, Luce is definitely worth a watch.

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