Existing in a netherworld somewhere between the surreality of David Lynch’s early films and the eerie domain of Carnival of Souls – but absolutely its own unique achievement – writer/director Monica Demes’ horror offering Lilith’s Awakening is a bold, extraordinary vision filled with gorgeous imagery and inescapable dread.
Sophia Woodward is a marvel as Lucy, a young woman living in a very rural area in the United States. She seems disinterested in her marriage to Jonathan (Sam Garles), and evidently rightly so, as he thinks more about appeasing his boss than he does his wife’s feelings. In a scene with Lucy that begins uneasily, to say the least, Monica Demes establishes the character Arthur (Matthew Lloyd Wilcox), who I won’t go into detail about here to avoid spoilers for this scene. He plays a pivotal role in the film, though.
Lucy is haunted by troubling dreams in which an ominous, somewhat exotic-looking woman (Barbara Eugenia as Lilith) appears. Eventually, Lucy fears that the woman is coming after her. This sense affects her job at her father Abe Helsing’s (Steve Kennevan) old-fashioned filling station, along with her marriage. Different elements from Lucy’s dreams and waking life collide, and we follow her down a dark path that she fears she can never escape.
In a chilling scene that sees Sophia Woodward give a mesmerizing performance, Lucy thinks she sees something in the woods next to her home and is terrified; Jonathan is less than sympathetic to her fear because she hasn’t yet begun preparing dinner for his boss and boss’s wife, who will arrive shortly. Woodward’s facial expressions convey a deeply held sensation of something awful and horrifying.
The names of these characters and their allusion to Bram Stoker’s Dracula give away the type of horror film this is. Like many vampire tales before this one, Lilith’s Awakening addresses a young woman’s sexual repression and the awakening that vampirism represents. Monica Demes explores these issues with intriguing sensitivity while simultaneously building tension and a brooding sense of apprehension.
I don’t usually compare movies with works from other filmmakers in my reviews but this is a special case. A David Lynch vibe pulses throughout, and there is good reason for that: This is the first feature film from the David Lynch MFA Film program from the Maharishi University of Management, which combines studying filmmaking technique with using Transcendental Meditation as part of the creative process.
Monica Demes certainly shares several Lynchian aspects in Lilith’s Awakening but she puts her own mark on things, rather than simply borrowing or copying. The two biggest commonalities with Lynch’s work are the use of stark black-and-white cinematography and a haunting sound design by Francois Wolf and David Feldman. Rather than the industrial drone of Erasherhead, the ambient sounds in Lilith’s Awakening come mostly from nature or Feldman’s unsettling score.
Alfonzo James and Gregor Kresal share cinematography duties on this mostly black-and-white film. Occasional flashes of color are used to great effect and add a touch of grounding to the sometimes surreal proceedings. Monica Demes patiently settles viewers into her gorgeously framed sequences that are filled with haunting imagery by using lingering shots trained for long periods of time on both action and inaction. She uses this technique with close-ups of people, such as the aforementioned chilling sequence with Lucy petrified as she stares into the nearby woods, and with foreboding landscapes, as well.
Lilith’s Awakening takes the notion of art house horror cinema and strips it down to a lean accessibility. The film is enigmatic but not difficult to decipher. Some viewers will focus on the feminist allegory involving Lucy’s journey from repressed, frustrated wife to a quite different path. Others will enjoy the story at surface level. Some will be wrapped up in the surrealism. Whatever the case, Lilith’s Awakening is a captivating artistic endeavor that slowly wraps viewers in its sense of growing menace and dreamlike terrain. The film just began its film festival debut this month and it is one to add to your must-see list.
Lilith’s Awakening: (4 / 5)