Steven Adam Renkovich’s The Awakening Of Lilith

Grief. Mental illness. Turbulent family dynamics. A battle to maintain one’s identity amidst a myriad of struggles both internal and external. These are deep, difficult themes to work through in film and it’s so often that we see them not done proper justice, not explored in a fashion that feels fair, realistic or respectful and overall misses the mark. Steven Adam Renkovich’s The Awakening Of Lilith is a film of strength, assuredness and striking meditative intuition that approaches these themes from a refreshingly, staggeringly mature and relatable standpoint, between his his strong, hypnotic direction and an otherworldly, deeply instinctive lead performance from Brittany Renée as Lilith, a woman lost in the darkest corners of her own mind following a shrouded tragedy that we learn more of bit by bit. I always think of depression, anxiety and any mental illness as a relationship between space and time: these affliction are spaces we wander into, for an indeterminate amount of time, and while you are in them it quite literally feels like you will never, ever make it out; it’s like tunnel vision in fog. Lilith and her fiancée Noah (Justin Livingston) both suffer from variations on this and we see in flashbacks the strain it puts on their relationship as they try to work through their issues, individually and as a couple until… well, until we get back to present day Lilith, living with the fact that Noah, for reasons made agonizingly clear, is not around anymore. Lilith is not only navigating life without him but everyone else in her life who is not properly there for her including a coldhearted mother (Mary Miles Kokotek) and some friends who don’t quite have the proper empathy to support her. Renkovich’s script approaches the subject of mental illness with a precision, understanding, blunt realism and compassion that is all too rare in cinema overall, and the medium is immediately stronger with his feature debut voice in it. He uses eerie, haunting sound design and blurred, Rorschach-test like imagery to disorient and draw us into Lilith’s tempestuous and confusing internal landscape with terrific support from Seth Anderson’s often terrifying, frequently beautiful and always atmospheric score. Renée is a revelation as Lilith, possessive of the kind of old world poise, timeless anachronistic aura, clearly annunciated, carefully thought out expression and ethereal essence that is so rare in human beings and is always a truly special quality for an actor to have. She imbues Lilith with the kind of resolute, lonely sadness of someone who is used to living in their head and fiercely facing their demons in implosive silence. Livingston as Noah plays it a bit more clipped but underneath the curt vernacular we see someone who is sensitive but has never been allowed to outwardly own it, who guards a hurt so deep it’s clear he’s only ever allowed Lilith in to share it, a dynamic that both strengthens their relationship and puts it to ultimate test. My favourite scene is the two of them in a camping tent, together beyond the world; Lilith gives him a gift that has immense personal meaning to her and their bond is so deep the silence in the air around them can hear it, it’s a wonderful moment that’s made all the more affecting and heartbreaking when you look at their arc overall, accented in finality by a gorgeous ending credit song sung by Renée herself that leads you out of the narrative perfectly. There is a lot to unpack here for a film that clocks in just under 90 minutes, and I’ve only just brushed the surface of this textured, complex, beautifully crafted piece. Wondrous film.

-Nate Hill


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