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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

AFF Review: Siren

Siren, directed by Gregg Bishop, is based on the "Amateur Night" short that opens up the first V/H/S anthology film, in which a few friends find that one of the women they take to a hotel is not quite what she seems. Expanding on that, this film builds a new tale around this mysterious woman (Hannah Fierman, reprising the role) and a new set of men. Jonah (Chase Williamson) is getting married, and his brother Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan) and two close friends are taking him out for his bachelor party. When the planned strip club outing doesn't drum up excitement in the crew, Mac decides to up the ante and follow a stranger to a mansion that is full of occult and BDSM curiosities. It is there that Jonah meets Lily, the titular siren, and frees her from the house's proprietor Mr. Nyx (Justin Welborn), only to find that she has a monstrous side.

*Mild Spoilers Ahead*
The film is an interesting indie horror film, and avoids many of the eye-rolling pitfalls, thankfully it foregoing the handheld POV of the original short. It doesn't follow a typical template, and while there are a few predicable turns in the plot, it kept me engaged throughout. The male characters are fairly stereotypical, but the film uses this to its advantage, playing Mac's aggressive character and the others' laid back personalities against Lily, who is the ultimate in sexual aggression.

It is in this way that Siren subverts the regrettable sexual politics that pervade most horror films. Typically, we see a female protagonist that is being relentlessly pursued by a sexually aggressive and violent villain or creature, but here that dynamic is reversed and complicated by the forceful Lily, who very easily takes what she wants, which in this case is Jonah, her rescuer. Mac's stag party rules, the most important of which is "always say yes" is put to surprising use, too, when Jonah interprets that as the reason why he must act when he discovers that Lily is being held against her will.

There are also some really nice horror ideas that exist in the fringes of the film, largely in Mr. Nyx's household. There's a woman with leeches for hair like Medusa, who can use these to steal memories by implanting them in the victim's neck. The man who initially led Jonah and co. to the mansion seems to have some sort of deal in which his deceased loved one can be temporarily brought back to life–for a price, of course. These details that are peppered throughout the film could have been explored a good deal more, but as it stands give it a fascinating occult backdrop.

Siren has a nice classic horror feel right away from it's opening scene in a cemetery and nice use of atmosphere. A lot of this is due to composer Kristopher Carter, who readers might recognize from the bulk of DC's animated series (Batman Beyond, Superman, Justice League, etc.). Since Lily uses a vocal song to control her prey, Carter does an excellent job using her simple song as a jumping off point for the entire score that is full of atmospheric melody.

As with many indie horror films, a critical eye is often turned on the visual effects, but there is little to worry about here. The effect of Lily's wings and tail are not perfect, but they are well done. More importantly, the film uses clever, cinematic ways to display her unique anatomy without showing it full on all the time, which adds to her menace and contrasts with the confused, affectionate woman that these monstrous appendages sprout from.

Overall, Siren is a worthwhile watch for horror fans who can appreciate great mood and some clever bits of storytelling. It probably won't make many end of the year top ten lists, but it's a fairly memorable and surprisingly smart horror film. I could easily see a film more focused on the horrors of Mr. Nyx's mansion doing very well, and I'm interested in seeing what this crew will do next.

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