I was totally prepared for Siren to be a duff movie, but with little time I figured it wouldn’t be a total waste of 82 minutes of my life. Turns out to be a pretty good little movie that left me impressed.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Siren is the feature-length expansion of Amateur Night, the first non-bookend segment of V/H/S. The story, written and directed by David Bruckner, features a trio of bros who plan on taking young women back to a hotel room and inconspicuously film them having sex. Just the kind of thing a bro would do, right? The plan spectacularly misfires when one of the two girls they bring back to the hotel room turns out to be some kind of feral monstrous creature. Cue mayhem. To be honest, it wasn’t my favourite segment – while it was unpredictable and intriguing, the good stuff was tempered by the douchebags in the story, specifically one that laughed like hyena for a chunk of the second half of the story. As a director, Bruckner should have known better. As well as the crazy ending, the segment is best remembered for the performance of waifish British actress Hannah Fierman. Sure, there is not a lot of acting to do, but Fierman imbues the character with an ethereal quality, in stark contrast to the other side of the character. But like I said, not terrific.
I stumbled across Siren while reading some trade in early 2016 and I remember just kind of shrugging, and promptly forgot about it until a strong recommendation from a friend who had caught an early release viewing. He remembered what I thought of the V/H/S segment and told me I needed to watch it. Ever thankful for small favours, it was a good recommendation, even though I was a bit wary – it’s a Chiller production, and for those who don’t know, Chiller is a Stateside TV channel for horror, like SyFy is to scifi: cheap, low budget, generic stuff.
The story isn’t much of an expansion of the original short, it’s a completely different story. Jonah, who is soon to be married, is taken on a final bachelor’s weekend by his brother and two friends. Drinks, shrooms, strippers, and fun! It doesn’t sound that much different in terms of character from V/H/S, but it’s very different from the get-go. The script, by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, is more concerned about making these guys likeable, not d-bags by any means, and the change pays off. Jonah is played by Beyond The Gates’s Chase Williamson. Here, as in the other movie, Williamson anchors the production with a strongly likeable presence. He’s a good guy, a regular guy, mellow and not really into the trip. There’s something to be said in having this kind of character in this kind of movie, and I found Jonah to be a good choice of protagonist. The four dudes hit one strip joint, but then are offered the chance to go to something a little more exciting. Once there, at some swanky looking brothel in the middle of nowhere, Jonah encounters an odd looking girl named Lily – Hannah Fierman reprising her role from Amateur Night. From then, the movie hits the horror button and the story develops well. My concerns about it being a Chiller movie are unfounded. What little budget the movie has is spent well. The writing is good, the acting is good, the photography, the music – it all looks and feels like a bigger budget movie, thanks to the talent involved.
I was grabbed immediately – the opening prologue is really well done, and features Justin Welborn, also from Beyond The Gates, but I was really taken aback by his performance here. In Beyond The Gates he plays a completely 2 dimensional thug – here in Siren he has so much personality he’s the best performer in most of his scenes, really, really good. The other cast are good too, authentic in lesser roles, but Fierman (who looks eerily like indie horror goddess Lauren Ashley Carter – Darling, among others) really kills the part of Lily. Again, she doesn’t have to do a lot, but she once again makes Lily – this time a version of a siren from Greek mythology – a wholly believable and sympathetic being, even among the carnage she wreaks around her.
There’s not a lot I was disappointed in here, but the third act plays out in kind of a too-obvious fashion, and the ending coda isn’t as strong as I thought it could have been, with the actual final scene a little too typical of the horror genre. Personally, I would have preferred a different ending with Jonah and Lily, seeded early in Act 1, but of course this is just personal bias talking. It may have made the movie better for me, but maybe not a better movie per se.
As I’ve mentioned in other low budget horror movies, I’ve developed a taste for them. When done well they can be great. Mickey Keating makes really watchable movies, and so too do the combo meal of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. In fact, watching Siren’s polished production, directed very capably by Gregg Bishop (V/H/S Viral), I was reminded a lot of the latter, which is a high compliment from me.