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First Look Review - LILITH'S AWAKENING

A sexually repressed woman's life is transformed by an encounter with a mysterious female vampire.





Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Monica Demes

Starring: Sophia Woodward, Barbara Eugenia, Sam Garles, Steve Kennevan



An artist in her own right, Demes shares with her mentor David Lynch an idiosyncratic sense of purpose and vision, and, like its implacable eponymous vampire, Lilith’s Awakening is at once beguiling and unsettling. Bare your neck and submit swooning to its strange and sexual bite.


In the moonlit landscape of the horror genre, the shadow of the vampire has not been so visible of late. Perhaps the ubiquity of Edward Cullen, Stefan Salvatore et al, and the mid 00’s tween Twilight take on the vampire, defanged the monster, driving a tentative stake through the heart of the sub-genre, leaving also rans like Dracula Untold and the Fright Night remake to moulder in their coffins. And then there’s the anachronistic emblematic nature of the vampire itself, a figure predicated upon sublimation; a subconscious repression of desirous urges which manifest in the penetrative, crepuscular form of the nosferatu, a creature driven uninhibited to break flesh and suck bodily fluids. Accordingly, the vampire archetype coalesced in the Victorian era, and experienced its most prominent recent resurgence via YA fiction, arenas that were/are primarily ashamed/preoccupied with discomfiting sexual awareness. But one of the reasons I find vampire films so dull is the monster’s perennial representation as walking/stalking metaphor; less concerned with being scary than allegorising blood-type-of-the-month fear, the overt analogies the vampire movie implies is akin to being subjected to an undergraduate lecture on Freud, with more or less gore.


However, there are of course recent exceptions to the trend, films that blend blood and braininess with intoxicating and lyrical results. Let the Right One In, of course, is peerless, while A Girl Walks Home Alone is visually fascinating; these are films that build upon the tragedy of the vampire, that exemplify its inherently Romantic nature. To add to the list, here’s first time writer/director Monica Demes' Lilith’s Awakening - a psychological horror film that reconfigures the Dracula myth to the cold Midwest, and which tells of Lucy (the film’s Mina figure, played with wide eyed wonder by Sophia Woodward), who is a suppressed young woman imperilled to a loveless marriage, eking out the endless days working at her father’s service station. It is the night, however, that Lucy lives for, for her dreams which are stalked by a dark, mysterious temptress (the titular Lilith, played by a sultry Barbara Eugenia), and the empowered awakening she entails.


Lucy’s liminal existence is invoked by art direction (courtesy of Mary V.Sweeney) that is uncomfortably haunting, realising her daily life in a slow burn of tableaus; her husband (framed always slightly out of focus) nagging her to wake up from her delicious dreams, the drab garage workplace, the morning showers held in long take. It’s a mark of Demes’ confidence that she trusts her audience to have the stamina for her characteristic long cuts, daring us to submit to her film’s atramentous allure, a patience that is paid off when the film’s dreamy mise-en-scene finally transposes to nightmare insistence during the film’s latter half, depicting a genuinely horrific denouement which is all the more impactful for the slow, hypnotic rhythm that has preceded it. Until then, we see Lucy filmed in tight interiors; behind a counter, in the bathroom or the inside of a car (where Lucy is near raped by a co-worker, the danger of the situation initialising her awakening), while Demes cuts non-causally to wide open spaces such as the forest, or the moonlit sky; visually communicating the simmering tension between steadfast situation and yearning possibility.


The central theme is, of course, sexual repression, but this too is expressed gracefully. Alfonzo James and Gregor Kresal’s cinematography paints the film in precise blacks and whites, except for the lush colour that flushes the screen when Lucy accepts the warm command of her sexuality, or to highlight plasma red; menstrual, spilled, feminine; an erotic poetry of blood. At times, the use of symbolism is a little on the nose, for instance, there are a few long takes of Lucy at a mirror (double identities, yeah?), but even this slightly gauche visualisation allows twice the opportunity to gaze upon Woodward’s delicate, expressive face. Demes was guided by David Lynch (apparently, Lynch talent spotted Demes via her short Halloween) and there are clear parallels to be drawn between the two film makers. The term Lynchian has been lazily co-opted to mean anything that is slightly off-kilter and obliquely weird; whereas Lynch’s best films have actually always been carefully constructed, creating interpretive meaning from symbols and rhythms designed to engage the viewer on both an intellectual and visceral level. An artist in her own right, Demes shares with her mentor an idiosyncratic sense of purpose and vision, and, like its implacable eponymous vampire, Lilith’s Awakening is at once beguiling and unsettling. Bare your neck and submit swooning to its strange and sexual bite.

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