By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
From the commencing moments of Lilith’s Awakening (2016), the astonishing first fictional full-length film from Brazilian writer and director Monica Demes, an atmosphere of mesmerizing, quiet intensity is immediately evoked. This is heard in the simple, almost mechanical, grinding of a swing. It is one piloted by our enigmatic heroine, Lucy (in a brilliant portrayal by Sophia Woodword). Yet, the din produced is anything but mundane. It comes to our ears like a rhythmic, sinister song. One which is meant to conjure an unholy fiend from his slumber. All of this is initially prefaced by an unnerving yet, grimly poetic shot of the moon veiled in a foggy night sky.
This image, along with this distortion of our common perception, is the perfect set-up. Such is for this startling and singularly unique avant-garde, nightmarish, 80 minute stroke of genius. This largely subtle, psychological horror outing, derived from the gothic style, is a visual and creative marvel. It is one where trepidation is lurking in the multiple layers beneath what we view as well as looming ornately on the surface. Such creates, particularly with the dashes of the old-fashioned mixed in with the contemporary, that increasingly rare terror feature. The one which satisfies on all avenues and demands.
Heavily inspired by Bram Stoker’s immortal novel, Dracula (1897), even down to the names and its use associated with the places found herein, this masterful work tells the tale of the sexually repressed Lucy. Her life appears to be a bland, repetitive cycle. It is one she desperately wishes to escape from. She labors thanklessly for her father, Abe (in a portrayal by Steve Kennevan that is both exceptional and credible). This is at a service station in a small town in Iowa, the state where this gem was recorded, which he owns. Just as worse: her marriage to Jonathan (a terrific depiction by Sam Garles) has long lost its affection. In turn, it has become every bit as routine as the time spent at her place of employment. The solace she finds is when she mentally constructs the spectacle of an ominous female figure. Her name is Lilith (a riveting, unsettling portrayal by Barbara Eugenia). She is a menacing presence found in the woods surrounding her home. After Lucy is taken advantage of by a mechanic she toils alongside, Arthur (an enactment which is endlessly gripping), a sense of wickedness overcomes her. Slowly, she begins to sense Lilith’s presence surrounding and closing in on her. But, is it true or all in her mind?
Demes’ literary and behind the lens capabilities are taunt, terrifying and claustrophobic. She also takes risks aplenty. There are scenes that are dialogue driven. We are amended just as many segments where Demes allows the imaginatively rendered phantasmagorias to speak their volumes without a single word. Such helps make this a magnificent, captivating modus. One which incorporates both the real life and the deep slumber-like qualities visible throughout into the piece. This also assists in our ability to see the world through Lucy’s eyes. Such happens as her grasp on these essentials seem further blended. But, the smartest aspect of this tactic is that it keeps the balance between story movement and invention faultlessly even. It makes for a photoplay that, like the penned product it sprang from, is riveting in structure and execution.
She also ties together these elements with a finale that is fittingly unsettling and illusive. There is a noticable penchant for extended sights, all ravishing displays courtesy of Demes, exhibiting Lucy reflected in mirrors. Such heightens the boldness and ingenuity at hand. This attribute mechanizes spectacularly as one of the numerous low-key nods to vampire mythology strategically placed through the composition. Adding to the creative luster is the instances where the colorful, bright red splashes of blood, so vibrant it is like watching paint being thrown on a canvas, offers a departure from Alfonzo James and Gregor Kresal’s gorgeous black and white cinematography. Such only accumulates the dizzying fascination the endeavor elucidates.
The undertaking is also magnificently structured and paced. Demes gives us characters that are purposefully crafted as a mystery. Yet, we still, incredibly, impress upon ourselves that we know them. It suits the sensation brought forth by this electrifying, perplexing puzzle box of a silver screen affair terrifically.
The endeavor also benefits from chilling music by David Feldman. Andrea Acker’s costume design and Mary V. Sweeney’s art direction is phenomenal. Eden West is fantastic in her turn as Police Officer Morris. Demes’ and Lloyd Wilcox’s editing only further complements the proficient, macabre allure of all we encounter. David Feldman and Francois Wolf’s sound department contribution is top-notch. The use of such is one of the defining components of this surreal tour de force’s lingering technical nature.
It is easy to see how Deme’s impeccable, abstract talents received the attention of the Missoula, Montana maestro, David Lynch. As a matter of fact, the Ganesha Filmes and Outsiders Arts production often calls to mind Lynch’s debut cinematic opus, Eraserhead (1977). This is evident in the individuality and attention-garnering genius that is finely hammered into every frame. It is also seen in the general approach. Most readily, how it mixes the commonplace with the horrifying and hallucinogenic. There are also touches of Ingmar Bergman, Mario Bava and early George Romero woven into the proceedings. Yet, this creation is distinctly its own entity
Demes is astonishing. She has displayed more talent in one picture than countless do in their entire catalogue. What is just as startling is that she explores much of the same themes explored in Stoker’s aforementioned novel, especially its alternately inhibited and liberated views on sensuality, in a method that is always innovative and exciting. Likewise, there is never a moment that feels familiar or worn. Instead, we are given a wholly ground-breaking journey. It is one which is just the breath of fresh air cinephiles desperately need. Demes has crafted a stunning success. It is a striking, hypnotic effort. One which will assuredly grant her a legion of fans who appreciate movies as a singularly expressive experience. This is one of the best pictures I’ve seen all year. I highly recommend you seek it out.
The official site for Lilith’s Awakening is here.
The Facebook page for the film can be found here.
You can get tickets for the premiere of Lilith’s Awakening at the Dances With Films festival in Los Angeles on June 11th, 2016 here.