By J. Carlos Menjivar
From Brazilian director Monica Demes comes a re-imagining of the Bram Stoker classic, Dracula. This time titled Lilith’s Awakening, the film deals with complex themes contrasting the much more concrete source material. While the former dedicates itself in exploring dark and unknown forces the latter focuses on gender, concerned with the repressed role of women in society.
The film follows Lucy (played by Sophia Woodward) a woman from small-town America trapped in a rigid patriarchal power structure. She is employed by her father in a boring and dead-end job at his service station; she’s part of a loveless marriage with husband Jonathan (Sam Garles); and sexually abused by mechanic Arthur (Matthew Lloyd Wilcox). The irony is that this update takes place in the present and not in the same era as Stoker’s 19th century novel, and yet feels more constricting than its Victorian-era counterpart.
Writer and director Demes makes it clear, male dominance is just as prevalent in the 21st century. When Arthur suggests a locale for a sexual rendezvous, forces arrive to enlighten and possibly liberate Lucy, in the form of Lilith (Barbara Eugenia), a mysterious figure of the dark. Lucy’s woes are tied to her not having her own child as the men claim. To them it would keep her busy implying that her incompleteness is due to her lack of mothering attributes and not at all indicative of the reality of how mundane her life actually is. Nevertheless, men should fear Lilith, women, on the other hand, and in this case Lucy, she represents the force of individuality and freedom; an escape from the repression of female sexuality, and just what Lucy needs a sexual liberation on her own terms.
The film is masterfully shot in black and white by Alfonzo James and Gregor Kresal in a contrasty chiaroscuro. In this world, women are trapped by the patriarchal and concrete world, but once in the lush natural world, the film takes on an ethereal feel, almost as if escaping into a fantastical world of endless freedom and potential for our protagonist. The cinematography is an indication of the world’s polarity of slave and master, us and them, evoking a detrimental duality of societal backwardness that pits forces one against another in a constant struggle, justified through phallocentric preference and the sexual freedom of man.
Lilith’s Awakening focuses its lense on the relevance of the perceived and limited role of women, usually as nurturers, wrongfully pitted into the whore-madonna complex by men who both fear and revere female sexuality. The film is a liberating and feminist indictment of phallocentric patriarchy, freeing women from the the throngs of a limited and suffocating role as women, providing a fresh female voice to a mostly male-dominated genre and industry. It is an evocative and moody film that sets up an atmosphere that is full of dread and eeriness, recalling the likes of David Lynch and Roman Polanski, specifically Repulsion
Directed with a masterful eye and care for methodical atmosphere, Lilith’s Awakening is one of the best horror films of 2016; it is thought provoking and evocative, a visual experience worth watching and a film that shouldn’t be missed. Although it is loosely based on Dracula the film is a wholly unique and surprising experience that captivates from beginning to end.
FUN FACT: Monica received guidance from her mentor Lynch himself while she was writing her script, using the Transcendental Meditation techniques to reach deeper levels of consciousness.