Friday, June 10, 2016

Lilith’s Awakening – review

Director: Monica Demes

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

As this is the first feature length film from the David Lynch MFA Program and, mostly, in Black and White there are parallels that might be drawn with the film Nadja. However, where that was an arthouse remake of Dracula’s Daughter, I have seen this described as a re-imagining of Dracula.

Personally I don’t think it is. Clearly it uses the names of characters from Stoker’s novel but it uses them, I believe, more in reference than in re-imagining. This explores female empowerment and that can be seen in the title itself. The vampire (Barbara Eugenia) might be named Lilith on IMDb but in the actual movie credits she is simply called the vampire. Lilith, as a title, is more a concept of the feminine – empowered and free of patriarchal shackles. She is the archetype that rules over the protagonist of the piece, Lucy (Sophia Woodward).

the photography concentrates on details
After a voice over suggesting that every time the speaker closes her eyes she connects with the universe the camera shows us Lucy, her face is captured in detail but we know from the sound and her motion that she is on a swing. Lips come close, speaking seductively in French. This is the main motif of the film, the photography is gorgeous and concentrates on close up, at times in an almost detailed still life. There are moments of vastness, when we first meet the vampire she is almost lost as a figure within a wide shot of woods, the same when she bites Lucy. But the majority of the film is close, intimate, perhaps claustrophobic at times.

the vampire arrives
The alarm goes off, Lucy fights waking as Jonathan (Sam Garles), her husband, gets up. Through this sequence we never see Jonathan in focus. Lucy showers but he chivvies her along due to the time. As they breakfast he tells her that he is going out for a beer with Renfield (Zach Dean) that evening. Lucy doesn’t like the way Renfield looks at her – but he is Jonathan’s boss. Lucy goes to work, a dead end job in the store connected to her father’s garage. Her father is called Abe Helsing (Steve Kennevan). It is after this we see the vampire arrive through the woods; cloaked, guitar carrying and striking.

a moment of colour
As Lucy leaves the garage to go home we see a figure sit up behind her in the car. It is Arthur (Matthew Lloyd Wilcox), Abe’s mechanic. He grabs her and tries to force himself upon her – the scene more powerful for the close, intimate photography. Eventually he says he will leave her alone if she kisses him and when they kiss she responds. He doesn’t leave her though until she promises to meet him out at the abandoned rail car and then her father starts calling for him. As she drives away the photography moves into colour – and this occurs occasionally through the film. She purposefully misses the rendezvous but Arthur picks up the vampire – his fate eliciting no sympathy due to his behaviours.

reject Judeo-Christian patriarchy
The film, as I say, is about female awakening. There is a fight against patriarchal restrictions – including the explicitly communicated idea that Lucy “needs grounding” and this should be done, Abe says, by Jonathan giving her a child – forcing her into the role that patriarchy demands of her. There is a religious aspect as well. Conspicuous placing of a cross in shot, the saying of grace and, most telling, the drone of a radio preacher – who is also played by Steve Kennevan and this reinforces the patriarchal nature of religion (especially of a Judeo-Christian type). Lilith, of course, is a name synonymous with rejection of the Judeo-Christian patriarchy.

bite marks
The acting is solid throughout but most impressive was the performance given by Sophia Woodward the nature of the photography meant that her performance had to be given by nuance and she captured and carried the viewer; be that with her boredom, her awakening, her fear and confusion. She subtly takes the viewer through a veritable roller-coaster of the character’s emotions.

Barbara Eugenia as the vampire
I mentioned the photography and I have to say it is what captured me most about the film. It was absolutely arresting throughout. The story itself is, on the surface, rather simple and yet weaves in a non-linear aspect that offers a deliberate dreamlike confusion for the protagonist. The simplicity also relies on a knowledge of the source inspiration, I feel, and this then tells a more complex socio-political tale based on gender imbalance. It is, in a word, dazzling.

A real gem but definitely arthouse. 9 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Bill Courtney said...

Hi Andy. I got away from horror blogging for a long time and trying to get back. I am so happy to see you have maintained your site and have been consistently turning out your reviews. it is inspiring and shows tremendous dedication, bravo mate. Very well done. I just scrolled down through your posts and there are simply too many for me to read over since the last time I was here. I thought of you as I watched a Canadian vampire comedy about a rock band called Sucks or something like that. I came here to see what you said on it and will search it. Good work.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Bill. Thanks for the kind words. Suck is here: