Female Trouble: Reincarnated biblical she-devil ‘Lillith’ goes to college; horny frat boys beware

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OPEN WIDE Savannah Whitten in ‘Lillith.’

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a biblical bisexual female demon horror flick to look at. So we were intrigued, at first, with the story concept behind Lillith. The poster art is pretty striking as well. This particular version of the original Mesopotamian/Hebrew “Whore of Babylon”—the faulty first wife of Adam, better known as Lilith, minus the film version’s extra “L”—is conceived for the screen as a lithe, green reptilian thingie with a come-hither-and-I’ll-suck-the-life-out-of-you look. Prospects seemed ripe for weird thrills.

But then we actually watched the movie. The story begins when college student Jenna (Nell Kessler) catches her boyfriend (Michael Finnigan) in bed with another woman. Heartbroken and seeking revenge, Jenna takes the advice of her Tarot-card-reading friend Emma (Robin Carolyn Parent), an amateur Wiccan, who offers to summon the infernal being in a forest one night, in order to sic her on the offending party. POOF! Up pops Lillith from a mud puddle—wait a minute, was that a tampon she coughed up?—and soon there’s a new face on campus, on the prowl for male transgressors. When not in full supernatural mode, Lillith (Savannah Whitten) sports flaming red hair and eyes, Goth makeup and a mocking sneer. Exit Jenna’s naughty boyfriend, a victim of coitus horribilis. Other men suffer the same grisly fate.

At this point we begin to notice a basic similarity between neophyte feature filmmaker Lee Esposito’s scenery-chewing “siren from hell” and the Carey Mulligan character from Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, the shared general message being: “Guys, clean up your act and stop disrespecting women. Or else.” True, Mulligan’s Cassandra—another name borrowed from classical mythology—is a living person, while Lillith is the ghostly embodiment of an ancient curse, but the vengeance has the same flavor. The common thread of virtue avenged is slightly intriguing for about three minutes, before the innate poverty of Esposito’s screenplay—co-written with Luke Stannard—asserts itself.

Lillith is low-budget and looks it. Lots of slow pans and the usual menacing electronic soundtrack hiccups. The cast of ordinary-looking young people—no budget for glamorous starlets—and their realistic, uncomplicated, non-literary dialogue is arguably refreshing, even though it’s difficult to imagine an all-white group of New Jersey university students. And besides, what’s so startling—in the age of QAnon—about middle-class young adults suddenly relying on a reincarnated Babylonian succubus to solve their relationship problems? Happens every day.

No acting-prize hopefuls here. Frequent TV actor Whitten, in the title role, exhibits a lot of exaggerated energy in her sex scenes, each of which climaxes with the mutilation of her unlucky partner. Otherwise, her most notable achievement is to satisfy the prime requirement for playing Lillith in the first place—plenty of room in her mouth for the demonic dental appliance. Langston Fishburne, son of actor Laurence Fishburne, contributes the vital role of the university professor who sets loose all this hellfire by trying to teach comparative belief systems to a lecture hall of bored students. Naturally he, too, finds the sexy manifestation impossible to resist.

Best to appreciate Lillith as an overview of young American interpersonal relations in 2019—in common with many other movies made that year, its release was delayed until now—run through a junk-horror filter. If that fails, you might try the old “Pretend It’s French” trick, a proven critical device. To make a dumb American movie take on new meaning, try to imagine all that dull, painfully interpreted dialogue being spoken by your favorite French actors in a sexy adult drama, set in St. Tropez instead of Matawan, N.J. Then again, we could acknowledge Lillith’s debt to mumblecore/mumblegore in its willingness to toss out virtually everything but the she-demon’s violent rampage in its search for that elusive hook that would separate it from all the other terrible fright flicks that went missing in 2020. Keep trying. Lillith came back. Long live Lillith.

Streaming from Terror Films.