The Awakening of Lilith
Directed and Written by Steven Adam Renkovish
Starring Brittany Renée, Justin Livingston, Tiffany Majors Doby
Atmosphere. It is the key to any good tale of Horror. Be it a dark and stormy night, a fog-covered and moonlit woods, or an unshakable sense of dread, the best Horror films create an atmosphere that permeates throughout every frame.
To make an audience feel uneasy by creating a proper mood is something mainstream Hollywood Horror has long forgotten. With a very few and oh-so-rare exceptions, jump scares seem to rule in today’s “Chillers”.
To make an audience jump is easy. To send them home with an unshakable disturbed feeling is harder to do. It is in the Independent Horror world where we find many filmmakers who know how to do it these days. Sometimes lack of budget can force filmmakers to rely on imagery and suggestion to bring about their terrors with more homegrown creativity. Mostly (and thankfully) it is directors who respect the genre and the art form by truly setting out to create character, good dialogue, and of course, the proper Horror atmosphere when crafting their genre films.
In Steven Adam Renkovish’s debut feature length film, “The Awakening of Lilith”, an unnerving sense of nightmarish isolation blankets every moment.
Brittany Renée is Lilith, a woman alone, haunted by tragedy. Her reality is becoming blurred, and she “exists” in a life of inner pain from an emotionally asphyxiating loss that she cannot understand.
Lilith has lost someone close to her and is living a non-existence in the house her late father left her. She cannot communicate anymore except to an unseen entity that she speaks to when alone. Her relationship with her selfish mother has become antagonistic and her interaction with friends and neighbors is almost impossible, as Lilith experiences disturbing visions regarding the people she encounters. She sees everyone and everything around her as a ghostly representation of death.
Even Lilith’s comfy home in her once welcoming neighborhood surroundings have taken on a sinister feel. But is it all happening as she perceives it or is Lilith projecting her darkness onto what she sees?
The methodical unfolding of the film’s layers should keep viewers riveted. Renkovish is skilled in crafting this unsettling emotional puzzle and his well-written screenplay assures every character (and every scene) walks the balance of what is real and what exists as mere illusion in Lilith’s mind.
Very much a psychological horror film with minor “Lynchian” undertones, Renkovish successfully creates intimate and character driven terrors as the mysteries of the screenplay slowly bubble beneath the surface of the narrative.
The filmmaker designed this work meticulously with an intensely creepy visual style that, at times, calls back to moments from Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” in its scenes of stifling loneliness and skewed perception of the outside world. Like Catherine Denuve’s depressed and confused Carol, we cannot trust what Lilith experiences while she cannot trust her own mind.
Thomas Springer’s camerawork uses patient framing (and some very welcome 70’s-styled grainy freeze frames) to enhance the mood while Seth Anderson’s score adds to the eerie ambiance of Lilith’s journey.
As the titular character, Brittany Renée is believable as a woman in some sort of mental and soul-damaging purgatory. The actress captures Lilith’s inner pain and sense of mental distortion. She is not crazy but there is something disturbing going on that she can’t get hold of, and it is destroying her will.
Disturbing events we wish to bury deep in our minds, the fear of death, the reality of tragedy; each of these subtexts exist in this film and within the character of Lilith. While certainly full of horrors, director Renkovish does not set out to scare his audience. He wants to unnerve us and does so by successfully blending the surreal with the real, yet amongst the macabre aura, the director infuses his film with a soulful humanity through his writing and Brittany Renée’s committed performance.
“The Awakening of Lilith” is a disturbing character piece that succeeds in its presentation of Lilith (and her life) as an enigma. She has something to figure out that is damaging her mind and soul. The audience may be cautious and a bit frightened, but Renkovish and his focused direction assures that we care about Lilith and what happens to her while making his film a fluid visual and emotional experience.
There is an intimacy to this fine picture, albeit an unsettling one. Renkovish has crafted a darkly intoxicating mood piece that will stay with you.
NR, 83 Minutes, Refuge Films