We here at ScreenRelish are well known for our eclectic tastes in horror movies. No vampire flick is too toothy for us, and no zombie caper will have us running for the hills. But Monica Demes’ LILITH’S AWAKENING had us thrilled to the core.
Written, directed and edited by Demes, LILITH’S AWAKENING is the first feature film produced under the David Lynch MFA Program, and has so far won several Iowa Motion Picture Association awards. Demes received guidance from Lynch himself during the film’s conception, and the end result is a wonderfully stark, primal vampire thriller. The official synopsis reads as follows:
LILITH’S AWAKENING is a psychological horror art film that tells the story of Lucy, a sexually repressed woman trapped in a loveless marriage and a dead-end job in a small Iowa town. The highlight of her existence comes at night, when she dreams of a mysterious and beautiful woman who haunts the woods outside her modest home. One night, a mechanic who works for her father forces himself on Lucy, awakening in her an uncontrollable dark force. When he makes her promise to meet him later at his hideaway in the woods, it may be the girl of her dreams – not his – who shows up for the fateful rendezvous.
We recently had a chat with Monica, and discussed how audiences should be prepared to enter a world of fantasy, getting the perfect shot, and the art of transcendental meditation!
ScreenRelish: How did the idea for LILITH’S AWAKENING originate?
Monica Demes: Through Transcendental Meditation. I used it to dive into my unconsciousness and came up with one of the scenes – the one where Art meets the mysterious woman on the dark road. After I came to that scene through intuition, I asked my intellect – why did I write that scene? what does it mean? And I came to the conclusion – I wrote that scene cause I was tired of seeing women raped in films, specially in horror.
In those kind of films they are usually portrayed as victims. So I said, what if it’s reversed? What if something really bad happens with the rapist instead? That was the seed of the entire screenplay. Also, I could connect with the energy of the Midwest: a cold place with huge distances, puritan and conservative and people didn’t talk much or connect – with that landscape I knew I had to built a vampiric story.
SR: LILITH’S AWAKENING plays with feminist themes whilst fusing them with horror motifs. What made you with to combine the two?
Demes: I love horror films, and I am a woman, so I guess this fusion exists inside of me. Besides I like to play with the line: “what if…” meaning – what if instead of a prince of the darkness, that seduces Lucy – it is a woman in his place, a princess of Darkness? What if…
SR: LILITH’S AWAKENING was made possible via the David Lynch MFA Program. How did you manage to secure a position on the course?
Demes: I have short film called HALLOWEEN, awarded by David Lynch and thanks to it, MUM University gave me a financial award to shoot a project in Iowa. Anda project I wanted. And my partner at Ganesha Filmes in Brazil, Roberto, thought it could be a great opportunity to shoot our first feature. So, actually LILITH’S AWAKENING is a co-production between Ganesha Filmes and Outsiders Arts. The MFA was of great help while I was writing the screenplay.
SR: What was it like working under the guidance of David Lynch?
Demes: His help was essential in finding the path to the story – he was not involved in production. David gave me great feedback when I was having a repetitive problem with the story. He went right into the grain, and opened my eyes towards the process of storytelling, on how our brains function as an antenna – perceiving the ideas that surround us and transforming it into images that will shape the story.
SR: The film feels visually rich in the history of horror cinema, were there any specific movies or directors that influenced you in the making of this film (aside from one obvious choice, perhaps!)?
Demes: NOSFERATU, THE HUNGER, REPULSION, NADJA and THE LOST HIGHWAY (not horror)
SR: Sophia Woodward gives an exceptionally arresting performance as Lucy. How did you find her?
Demes: I was watching a reading from a TV series directed by a friend and Sophia was among the actors, reading, in a cafe. When I first put my eyes on her, I had the immediate feeling that if God had had a daughter it would have been Sophia. She has an aura of light and virtue, the same light that the character of Lucy should have.
SR: LILITH’S AWAKENING is littered with metaphors of Lucy’s repression in life, from sex to her job. What was the writing process like in painting such a complete picture of Lucy’s character with the film’s experimental delivery?
Demes: We see the entire film from Lucy’s POV, so that gives me liberty to portray her feelings in a more experimental way. Also, when you shoot in black and white you are telling the audience since the first shot – “Hey guys, this is not reality, you are entering a fairy tale, a dream, a fantasy. Be prepared.”
SR: LILITH’S AWAKENING’s conscience length, its black and white production values, long, uninterrupted scenes with little dialogue, and Sophia’s performance all add up to a very primal film. What did the crafting process of LILITH’S AWAKENING involve?
Demes: I was searching for a look in the film that would give the feeling Lucy is lost in time and space. In that sense, the photography and the art play a strong role. We found the oldest gas station in Iowa and we needed it to reflect Lucy’s inner world. Also the long shots, give us a sense of sensuality and synergy that connects with Lucy’s journey. I guess we have the feeling we are in a dream world, Lucy’s dream word while we watch the film. To reach that look and feeling I did a small test with two of my talent, Eden West and Matthew Lloyd Wilcox, with a short film called THE RESERVOIR.
SR: The film is full of shots or transitions that have a perfect sense of symmetry to them. Was it a challenge to pull these shots off?
Demes: Not really, it was a very instinctive process. Like painting… you just have to repeat and repeat and repeat until it’s perfect.
SR: What might you say has been the most challenging aspect about making this film?
Demes: My accent. I needed to convince people that didn’t know me from the midwest that I need to shoot in their properties and that everything was gonna be okay. It was quite challenging. Because it was never a question of money, but of trust. But in the end, I connected with the right people, like the actor Steve Kennevan, or my line producer Chamolie Thomson, and we found the perfect locations with the kindest people you can imagine.
SR: What does the near future hold for LILITH’S AWAKENING, and yourself?
SR: What’s been the best thing about LILITH’S AWAKENING for you?
Demes: I grew stronger.
LILITH’S AWAKENING premiers on Saturday, June 11th (tomorrow!) at the prestigious TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA, at 11:45 PM as part of the Dances With Films festival. Check out the trailer for the film below, and check back here for our forthcoming review of the movie!