“Lilith” was directed by Alex T. Hwang and released on multiple VOD platforms in 2018, boasting a cast and crew of horror veterans among several newcomers. It’s the story of a detective who encounters, not a possessed woman, but the demon Lilith herself, which kicks off a reflection on four stories over which we learn that Lilith is often an avenger of women who have been sexually abused or otherwise harmed by men.
It feels like an amateur independent production that aims to make its audience reflect on lust, anger, depression, loss, and blood. The director commented (in an interview noted at horrorsociety.com) that he wanted to, “make a film that’s scary yet also makes an audience think,” then proceeds to tease that Lilith is a creature that punishes men who have done wrong to women and “they all get what they deserved.” So which is it? Are we meant to understand Lilith’s goal, or are we meant to fear her and be uncertain and think about what’s happening and why?
Regardless, there’s a cosplay in here that’s sure to have been rocked at one convention or another.
There are flares of passion and style (glitching on a video chat, design work for Felissa Rose, editing to tease Lilith’s “real” face, direction shifts to simulate pornography for a character addicted to it, etc.) that hint at the director aiming to function as a visionary, or that he’s telling a story he believes has a purpose.
Stand-out performances include Brialynn Massie as “Brooke,” Kimberly Roswell as “Melissa,” Vernon Wells (“The Road Warrior”) as “Phillip,” (who portrays grief and longing with a gripping believability even through seemingly problematic dialogue and despite having to shift to a more sinister, less grounded performance shortly after), and of course, Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”) as the titular “Lilith,” who seems to be having the appropriate level of fun taunting the rest of the cast and owning her role.
Thomas Haley, and every actor cast as a police officer, seems realistic as a casting choice, even if that means being more believable as police officers and detectives than actors. The special effects shift gradually over the runtime from digital gore to practical blood splatters and horrific flashing visuals.
The movie does leave a chillingly fun idea that ‘Lilith,’ as an entity, can embody or empower trapped women to combat traumatic experiences. She’s, somewhat, a horrific champion of freedom from pain onset from the will of others. They even touch on the mythological and biblical roots of the character being Lilith the original wife of Adam, the first man, prior to Eve being pulled from his rib.
However, touching on who Lilith is and bringing up ideas of what she could mean to women doesn’t mean the movie delivers with any depth.
Despite familiar talent performing well, there are so many characters beyond unbelievable to the point that you can almost tell each moment they’re given cues to move or say things. Props are, for the most part, obvious and cheap(arms, make-up, fake guns) which can be fun in some B-movies but here feels both inconsistent and insincere. For gore, the camera cuts away after staying long enough to make sure there’s no ambiguity or imagination to what’s happening (there’s a line between cutting to allow you to wonder what about a kiss is hurting a person and seeing their tongue flop out then be spit away quickly so you don’t see it as an effect).
I want to say this with as much subjectivity as possible, because I know a project like this isn’t easy, but it’s very hard for me to allow myself to be scared, and personally my brain doesn’t forgive obvious digital blood splatters, placing a low-resolution graphic of video-chat buttons on full-widescreen high-definition camera footage with a film-like frame rate, the camera slipping or staying out of focus, and audio-looping that doesn’t match.
Unfortunately, there are very few elements of filmmaking that didn’t break my suspension of disbelief at one point, especially given the confusing competence in the before-mentioned flashes of creativity. The consistent flaws, however, seem to be the director being unwilling to allow actors to take lines of dialogue and make them their own; so writing and direction, possibly the core of a movie, are the most difficult to praise.
Improvisation may not be necessary for some movies, but when I see a passionate performer stumble over not being able to contract two words or turn “we have to get out of here now,” into “let’s go,” or improvise any natural reaction where the idea is to invoke fear, of all emotions, I can’t help but become frustrated at the whole production. Each short in the anthology is as thin as they feel within the first few minutes. If you think you know what’s going to happen, you do, and so you wait for the coin to flip to see if the revenge/gore/horror is worth the veiled set up. The formula is: A guy is evil through sex (unfaithful, lying, objectifying, etc.), Lilith appears, mild tension, evil man is killed. The notion that I would be part of an audience made to think is frivolous and baseless.
The hardest thing to process about “Lilith” is that by the fourth short, for a brief window, the images of horror, torture, and gore are pushed to their most grounded and extreme and it contrasts so hard with the visuals for the rest of the movie that, for a moment, I felt the director cared more about depicting women being tortured than he cared to explore Lilith taking revenge. Most stories revel in the depression and horror that happens to the women characters, then the men are killed with a few squirts of digital blood or corn syrup (and one time a prop heart).
In The End
For any revenge story, particularly if exploring horror, there is a tightrope walk between being true to the audience you want to empower and turning sensitive experiences into someone’s “entertainment.” I don’t think “Lilith” is trying to be more than an indie-horror hit for fans of the various works of its’ staff, but that also left me feeling like this was made to appeal to a small circle of friends who were all making the movie about things they like to talk about, with little regard for whether the story would communicate those ideas to a larger audience.