Lucy is a bored and distracted girl, working at a service station in the wilds of sleepy mid America. Her husband Jonathan is more worried about a forthcoming dinner with his boss Renfield than his increasingly distant wife. Lucy has a guy on the side, Arthur, who is clearly more sexually involved with Lucy than she is with Jonathan. But Lucy doesn’t seem particularly interested in either man, and when she chooses not to show up for a midnight tryst with Arthur he instead falls victim to a strange kohl-eyed guitar-wielding exotic woman who sucks his blood. This mysterious vampire, Lilith, has previously appeared in Lucy’s dreams, triggering her period (a rare splash of colour in this otherwise monochrome film), but it’s only when Lucy tries to locate the missing Arthur and sees a drawing of the vampire in his trailer that she starts to believe Lilith might be more than a figment of her imagination. “I saw her in my dreams, and now she’s coming for me” she says. And she’s right.
The stunning black and white palette and strikingly haunting visuals of Lilith Awakens announces the latest in a small sub-genre of stylishly made films concerning contemporary female vampires, which include Michael Almereyda’s 1994 part toy camera filmed Nadja and Abel Ferrara’s gritty 1995 movie The Addiction. More recently Ana Lily Amirpour’s splendid 2014 film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night featured an Iranian female vampire on the lookout for lowlife victims in a Hopper-esque Californian landscape, and it is to this last film that Lilith’s Awakening owes a significant stylistic debt. Intriguingly Monica Demes, the movie’s Brazilian born writer/producer/director, developed this film within the David Lynch MFA film program, so as you’d expect the movie also looks to his inspiration for many of its visual touches.
Lilith Awakens is a slow burning mood piece of a film. Every shot is exquisitely framed, and the bleakness of the Iowa landscape recalls the bleached Texan environment of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 film The Last Picture Show. As you may have picked up, Demes uses a number of character names from the Bram Stoker novel Dracula (Lucy’s boss is even called Abe Helsing) and while this may initially seem a little clumsy, the ultimate effect is to weave this inspiration into the strangeness of the events on screen. The other standout is the soundtrack, which mixes Brazilian musician David Feldman’s brooding score with a wash of environmental sounds – fox cries have never sounded so scary, believe me – to great effect. Strong performances from newcomers Sophia Woodward and Barbara Eugenia as, respectively, Lucy and Lilith, keep the film from feeling like an exercise in cinematography. This is an enigmatic, enthralling and occasionally very unsettling debut from Demes, which will hopefully get a big screen run in the UK – it’s where it should be seen.