A bachelor party becomes a savage fight for survival when the groomsmen unwittingly unleash a fabled predator upon the festivities. A feature adaptation of the segment "Amateur Night" from the 2012 horror anthology "V/H/S."
December 2, 2016
David Bruckner, Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski
Hannah Fierman as Lily
Chase Williamson as Jonah
Justin Welborn as Mr. Nyx
Michael Aaron Milligan as Mac
There is an odd, meat and potatoes greatness to SiREN, directed by V/H/S Viral filmmaker Gregg Bishop. It reminds me of the Japanese horror manga “Tomie”, where a beguiling succubus uses subtle, emotional manipulation to lead unwitting men to their doom. In the case of SiREN, however, it’s straight up male rape. A bachelor party goes horribly wrong when the groom Jonah, (Chase Williamson), unwittingly unleashes the deadly mythological siren Lily, (a mesmerizing Hannah Fierman).
If it weren’t for the clever script by David Bruckner, Ben Collins, and Luke Piotrowski, this concept would be irredeemably silly. As it is, there is a surprisingly feminist subtext at work here. The men literally find themselves the butt of the joke. It goes right to the heart of straight male anxiety. What if you couldn’t handle a sexually aggressive woman?
Full disclosure. I haven’t seen the film in which this Lily (V/H/S, Amatuer Night segment) monster has appeared. I know she has a following, which is commendable in and of itself. As time moves further away from Freddy and Jason and Michael Myers and Pinhead, it’s nice to see there are new ghouls to fill the void. But just like Freddy and Jason and the like, which of the films featuring Lily will actually stand the test of time? Probably not this one, but it comes damn close.
One of the biggest positives SiREN has going for it is a genuinely formidable, charismatic antagonist, played by longtime horror stalwart Justin Welborn. His character is Mr. Nyx, a kind of warlock pimp. Binding the siren in a magical shackle, Mr. Nyx sells Lily in a secret club as the ultimate peepshow. Welborn plays him as a smug, cocky bastard right out of a Vertigo “Hellraiser” comic from the nineties. He is both threatening and jocular in the perfect measure.
Chase Williamson as the groom Jonah is a very sympathetic lead. You honestly believe this is a good man wanting to respect his fiancé, while at the same time trying to appease his groomsman brother, (Michael Aaron Milligan). The brothers appear to be estranged, and both hope the bachelor party will bring them closer together. It’s a nice subplot, which sadly gets short shrift. Only in the second half, when the siren is hunting and sexually violating Jonah, does Williamson really get to show off his acting chops.
SiREN creates an internal logic to its mythology and sticks to it. In the beginning, Jonah’s brother stuffs their cellphones in the glovebox. “Tonight’s your last blowout, bro. Not gonna have the little woman keeping tabs on you.” What a simple, believable way of taking the cellphone, the bane of all modern horror films, out of the equation.
My favorite scene in the entire movie is a fight in a diner. Jonah slaps on headphones to block out Lily’smind-controlling siren song. It’s a great moment because it shows our protagonist is smart, but it also puts Jonah at a disadvantage because now he can’t hear Lily creeping up behind him. That’s how you create stakes in an action sequence. I physically jumped when the scare came, something I rarely do.
Regrettably, little imperfections hinder this otherwise intriguing movie. Too many scenes are constructed in a workmanlike manner. Not amateurish, but not particularly polished either. More directorial finesse in the first act would have endeared the audience more to the doomed men. It’s a missed opportunity. Hitchcock put just as much tension in the dialogue scenes between Norman Bates and Marion Crane as the famous shower scene. He understood the value of both.
The cinematography by George Feucht works best in the shadows, the seedy clubs and dark forests that populate the middle of the film. The nighttime interiors, an abandoned Catholic church in particular, are atmospheric and macabre. The daytime scenes, however, have a cheaper, digital video quality.
And the last scene looks like it came from a completely different movie, something you’d find on the Lifetime Channel twenty years ago. It packs an ironic twist, but it doesn’t know when to cut to credits. I suspect Gregg Bishop wanted his film to end with a bombastic special effect, and that brings me to my next point.
The visual effects are spotty, but rewarding for the most part. The craftsmanship goes into the design of Lily herself. Her practical makeup in the close-ups works wonderfully, from her taloned fingers to the bloody maw running down the center of her face. Lily is believable as a creature both mythological and biological. This is also because of Fierman’s performance. She plays the siren as a creature more feral than human, with an insatiable need to copulate and feed.
The computer generated effects in the medium and long shots don’t work as well. Lily’s leathery wings and tail aren’t detailed enough, and they move in a stilted fashion. Director Bishop uses some clever camera tricks to try and compensate, (shadows on the walls, shooting through various material), but it’s still jarring. Had they relied only on the wire work, without all the embellishments, it would have looked better.
SiREN will be available in limited release and VOD at the beginning of December. If you and your significant other are in the mood for a slick cautionary tale about fidelity, I would highly recommend this one. If you’re flying solo, SiREN will make you count yourself lucky.