In Review: The Awakening of Lilith (Steven Adam Renkovish, 2021)

From its rather confrontational opening shot, it becomes clear that The Awakening of Lilith means business. The eerie, droning sound effect and the dim colours of the wooded area surrounding the titular Lilith (played by Brittany Renée) certainly make their presence felt, immediately dragging the unassuming audience member into the emotional abyss from which the film originates. The Awakening of Lilith follows Lilith as she tries to navigate her personal life after the loss of someone close to her, focused on not only the grief but expanding to look into the knock-on effects that grief can have, stemming into distrust and anxiety among other feelings. Whilst grief is something that may be slightly over-explored in film, especially in independent debut features, Renkovish’s approach to these emotions makes the film surprisingly refreshing and lively, particularly in some of its more experimental interludes (shown as the featured image of this article – you’ll know it when you see it).

Much of the film is centred around emotion – this may sound like a statement applicable to all films, but this film lives and dies within the emotions of Lilith as a character, stretching itself far from the more detached lenses of many directors and making a key point out of the empathy of both the audience and the director. Of course, it helps that Brittany Renée’s performance, one that sees her experience grief, anxiety and potentially post-traumatic stress, is one of the best of the year so far in its intense energy and helplessness. The vulnerability on screen is often palpable, helped along by the relatively small scale of the entire film that enhances its realism a great deal, and by the cast who give consistently good performances across the board. The film appears to take inspiration from some great horror films in crafting this feeling of helplessness from the audience to Lilith, mostly with Renée being reminiscent of Mia Farrow’s classic performance in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby but also stepping towards the cinema of David Lynch or even the 2013 cult film The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (dir. Cattet & Forzani) at times.

Credit to Refuge Films

The real standout here, however, is the cinematography by Thomas Springer. The eerie lighting, the subtle use of zooms and camera movements and the morphing of the cinematography during the aforementioned experimental sequences. The sound design plays a crucial role too, with the almost ambient drones and stings of the score adding massively to the tone, frequently becoming overwhelming towards the second half of the film when the events take turns for the darker and Lilith’s mystery starts to reveal itself more. Sound extends also to the narration – something I usually only tolerate, but in this film’s case, something that added to the experience with an intensely poetic tint similar to writers such as Anne Sexton in its bleak outlook. 

Any film that basks in enigmatic uncertainty as much as this one does is bound to stir up some feelings of anxiety, however, by using the camera and the sound to place the audience so deeply within Lilith’s own perspective, one of a frantic, depressive anxiety, Renkovish manages to accomplish a great discomfort here, the same kind that was conjured up by Bergman’s scripts or the direction of many great horror directors, but note: this film is no outright horror film, it instead finds its horror in some parts of daily life, in the drama that we experience and the tribulations that we all stumble upon at various points, whether we want to or not. Through its experimentation, strong performances and sturdy filmmaking, The Awakening of Lilith is a very good debut feature and shows promise for cast and crew alike. It’s a darker film than I had initially expected, but it contains some moments of genuine brilliance.

For those curious about the film, you can read my review (which includes a link to the short film) of Fugue, the short which was expanded by Renkovish into The Awakening of Lilith here –

Credit to Refuge Films

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