A feature-length film based off the weakest V/H/S segment? Who the hell thought that would be a good idea? Lots of people, apparently, if SiREN (no idea why the ‘i’ is small), is anything to go by.
Directed by Gregg Bishop, who was responsible for the one decent addition to V/H/S: Viral (the evil magician-themed “Dante The Great”), from a screenplay based off original short scripter David Bruckner’s, it’s a weird proposition. “Amateur Night” wasn’t life-changing to begin with, and four years and two V/H/S sequels later (one of which far eclipsed the first in terms of quality and scare appeal), do we really care?
Things don’t exactly get off to a great start, either, with a muddled, largely flat opening sequence which sees the titular creature captured by an immediately irritating spiritual douchebag type (played by Dante himself, Justin Welborn). We then skip a few years into the future to a bachelor party that’s about to take place somewhere in Florida. The groom-to-be is good-natured Jonah (The Guest‘s Chase Williamson) who is being led astray by a gaggle of bros.
Of his homies, Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan, another “Dante The Great” co-conspirator) is arguably the worst. A scoundrel who’s only interested in booze and broads, we know that Mac is likely going to get everybody into a lot of trouble before the night is out. When he does get them all invited to a party thrown by some shadowy figures, Mac first administers some shrooms, just to make sure they’re all messed up before anything dodgy even happens.
The title suggests that the Siren is the focus here, but she isn’t really. Instead, virtual newcomers Ben Collins Luke Piotrowski expand on Bruckner’s original concept by fleshing out the characters and making us care about those in peril, rather than the creature from whom they’re running. It’s a nifty trick, as she/it (as played by original actor Hannah Fierman, less here annoying than she was in V/H/S) isn’t particularly scary.
This is fundamentally the main issue with SiREN as a whole. It’s frequently, often laugh-out-loud funny but it’s not nearly scary enough to qualify it as a decent horror-comedy. Jonah breaks the creature out easily, and he and his buddies escape the compound with even less fuss. When the bodies do start to hit the floor, there are no real stakes. This is Jonah’s story, so his fate is pretty much sealed. Everyone else is (kind of) expendable.
Nyx, in particular, is an incredibly dumb stock character, which is a real shame because Welborn did some fine work in genre fare as far-ranging as The Final Destination and the thrilling Crazies remake. Here, he’s lumbered with the role of pantomime villain and his powers are never quite clear (the less said about his bizarre, Medusa-like assistant, the better). Better are Jonah’s friends, who have some cracking lines and react to the escalating situation like normal human beings (though only one of them is suspicious at first).
SiREN owes a considerable debt to Hostel in the initial setup of the villains’ lair, but it’s neither brave nor sick enough to plumb that movie’s depraved depths. Instead, it’s a bit like a kids’ adventure story with some half-baked horror elements thrown in. The first kill is appropriately vicious, and one character gets his comeuppance in a wildly inventive, deliciously gross way, but otherwise it’s all a bit…soft.
The comedy is well-judged throughout, the film loaded with quotable one-liners (“Everyone’s dying!” “We don’t know if that one guy’s actually dead!”), but it often overshadows the horror. And, considering the mythology and design of the siren are spot-on, it’s disappointing to see her relegated to a supporting role. The one time she lashes out, in an understandably un-sexy sex scene, is scary but recalls Splice almost note for note.
Elsewhere, the short’s infamous flying sequence makes an appearance, with dodgy CGI letting it down once more, but it features so fleetingly that it’s almost a non-event. And the ending, which hurtles towards a conclusion so inevitable we can see it coming from the movie’s first frames, has just a second to land before the filmmakers almost immediately switch it, to try to have their cake and eat it too.
It’s a real mess, but at least SiREN manages to be funny throughout its zippy run-time, and its characters are both real and likeable enough for us to continue to be interested in what they have to say (just not whether they live or die, since they never seem to really be in danger). The scares never materialse, but the titular creature is interesting enough, even in the quick glimpses we’re given here, to suggest this may not be the last we see of her.
And perhaps, next time, she’ll be centre of attention in her own right.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Gregg Bishop
Writer(s): David Bruckner, Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski
Stars: Hannah Fierman, Chase Williamson, Michael Aaron Milligan, Justin Welborn
Release: December 2nd, 2016 (theatres), December 6th, 2016 (VOD, Digital HD and DVD)
Studio/ Production Co: Chiller Films
Sub-Genre: Creature feature