In the daily grind of churning out content for horror community, we at Malevolent Dark love more than anything the opportunity to get an early look at independent films. We believe that there are the life blood of the community. Accordingly, we leapt at the opportunity when director Steven Adam Renkovish asked us to take a look at his film The Awakening of Lilith. From the description of the film, it appears that his film offers an intriguing look at some material outside of our usual bounds. Using Steven’s own words, he describes the film thus:
A woman finds herself in the midst of a dark mystery after the
unexplained loss of a loved one. Her mind begins to unravel as her
sense of reality begins to slip away.
Having lost someone very close all to young and all too unexpectedly, his synopsis resonated with me. With The Awakening of Lilith, Steven weaves a tales of a darkness so deep that it consumes not only the life of the titular character, but the life of another.
To be clear, The Awakening of Lilith is not standard fare for Malevolent Dark. Juxtaposed against Italian Cannibal flicks and 80’s American slashers, this film pushes psychological boundaries rather than visceral. Certainly, we have reviewed many psychological thrillers. Don’t Look Now (1973) comes to mind. While both The Awakening of Lilith and Don’t Look Now both confront the topics of loss and grief, The Awakening of Lilith has a much more human quality. Furthermore, it manages to stay true to itself for the duration which Don’t Look Now did not.
To be honest, Steven Adam Renkovish’s film shares more in common with more emotional dramas such as ‘night Momma (1986) and Ordinary People (1980). Neither of these are horror movies by any stretch, but yet they leave the viewers with a deeply profound sense of terror. Not terror from monsters, but terror from the reality of normal life.
Still, Renkovish adds enough style and imagery to create a persistent feeling of dread. The director tiptoes into insanity with crafty visuals and foreboding music. The average horror movie fan will feel at home in a dark room with this film.
The Life of Lilith
The film revolves around the namesake, Lilith. Renkovish withholds many details, slowly revealing the story as the film progresses. What we know from the beginning is that Lilith deals with the loss of her lover, Noah. As the weight of her grief envelops her, she accepts it with open arms because it is the only thing that makes her feel alive. The director clearly intends to build his story around the concept of grief; however, one of the more unsettling undertones of the film is the concept of loneliness. Lilith and Noah are hopelessly alone, even in each others arms. Among her friends, and even sitting across the dinner table from her own mother, Lilith is alone.
In his press packet, Steven Adam Renkovish states that his film cost a paltry $3000. To pull this off, he enlisted the help of friends to perform the acting duties. Even in the world of DIY digital film creating, a shoestring budgets break the $100,000 dollar barrier. Considering this, it’s really incredible how well everything works.
For starters, the acting is actually quite good. While amateur, they mostly succeed at being authentically human. And, this is more difficult than it seems. Brittany Renée plays the shattered character of Lilith. She carries a depth about her that betrays the weight of guilt hanging on her shoulders. Mary Miles Kokotek’s portrayal of Lilith’s mother also feels authentically vindictive and cold.
Director of Photography, Thomas Springer, confidently handles the camera. He intersperses static shots with gently uneven handheld shots. At times the framing could be improved as some of the dialog shots lack depth, but more times than not the camera work is interesting and critical to the overall mood. Additionally, the interpolation of high-grain digital “film” and special effects create an unsettling backdrop.
For the most part, the lighting works very well to set the mood. Many shots occur in darkness, and that works very well in an emotionally dark film. However, there are times where the darkness obscures relevant details. Additionally, some of the dialog proved difficult to hear over the throbbing soundtrack. Possibly a bit of compression and EQ could have pushed it through the mix.
But seriously, let us not pick nits. In all, it’s rather incredible what was done with so little.
Performing Above Expectations
The Awakening of Lilith demonstrates perfectly how to make a fantastic movie on a low-budget. Where Steven Adam Renkovish excels is his understanding of what type of film to make on limited means. We see all too often an ambitious work fail because the vision simply can’t be realized without money. In The Awakening of Lilith, people are the primary asset. Fortunately, Renkovish employed people that not only could pull off the work, but also were willing to share his vision and donate their time.
Another triumph of this film is that it manages to be profound without feeling self-absorbed and contrived. The subject matter of this film is heavy. Masterfully, he manages to slowly lead the witness to a conclusion that seems predictable in hindsight. Instantaneously, he makes one final revelation that hits deep in the pit of the audience’s emotional center to put an exclamation point on his film.
As mentioned before, Steven Adam Renkovish travels well explored territory, while providing a new perspective on the topics of loss and depression. Our only lament is that the film fails to leave us with a solution to these topics. It can only help us understand why it is all too hard to help those afflicted by them.
The director starts the film with a quote, we wanted to leave it here as it continued to resonate after the ending credits rolled:
“Memories I do not seize and bring inside.
O life! O living! O to be outside!
And I in flames
And no one here who knows me.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
Overall, The Awakening of Lilith is an outstanding film built on a very meager foundation. It exemplifies the power that a director may wield when they can tap into the raw emotional fabric of humanity. We are excited to see more from this team. We highly recommend this film.
I wanted to mention that the director, Steven Adam Renkovish, is a kindred spirit. He operates a blog called Halloween Retro 101. Like Malevolent Dark, he reviews horror movies but he does his in the context of the physical medium of its release. He currently operates Refuge Films, LLC. which is the banner that he released The Awakening of Lilith under. So far his film has traversed the Tryon International Film Festival, and the Mental Filmness Festival in Chicago. The film is not yet in wide distribution yet, but we expect to see on the market soon. When we get details, we’ll update here.
Here are some additional resources:
The Awakening of Lilith (2021) - Menacing Darkness - Malevolent Dark
Director: Steven Adam Renkovish
Date Created: 2021-01-01 00:00