The creative team from They Look Like People returns for The Siren, providing yet another sideways glance at the darkened internal conflicts of the human animal. Originally The Rusalka – a better title changed for, one assumes, logistical reasons – director Perry Blackshear & Co.’s sophomore effort plunges less overtly into that of a genre subversion. Instead The Siren’s teasing of horror indulgence throughout succumbs to a more melancholic and pained journey through troubled characters’s inability to actualize the desires they come face to face with. The film’s involvement of a mythological monster dips its toes – pardon all of the puns – directly into truly murky waters, but its early scares lapse intently into the realm of doomed supernatural romance. This might be disappointing to some, but ultimately, on some level, is demonstrative of how Blackshear is able to eat his cake and have it too.
The early scares are effective, most notably in a sequence where our mute protagonist (by flashlight beam) searches for mysterious sounds at the dockside lake house he has recently come to stay at. Blackshear has a knack for creating effective dread from mostly minimal elements, as in They Look Like People’s employment of simple sound design motifs to turn unmoving silhouettes and mundane contemporary settings into monsters, hellscapes, fleshy embodiments of mental illness.
While The Siren is an altogether less fulfilling film than Blackshear’s first, not nearly as tunneling and gripping in its downward spiral, it can boast of a more ambitious – albeit scattered – vision. Despite restricting itself entirely to the surroundings of a single watery location, the variety of visual styles turn present, flashback, above water and below, all into distinct aesthetic modes. Additionally, the strong returning cast of Margaret Ying Drake, MacLeod Andrews, and Evan Dumouchel turn out effective performances, even with extremely sparse dialogue and a generally restrained, close-to-the-chest style.
By the time The Siren’s story of folktale romance turned sour comes to a finale – with a wonderful conclusive tableaux that leaves us with the film’s strongest moment – we feel the accumulation of subtle detail and simple storytelling working a bit of its magic. The Siren lacks most of the flash that a bigger budget can provide filmmakers – and it also skips a lot of the more sensational thrills that genre fans may think they require of a cinematic experience – but the film’s strength is uncovered within its limitation, with a smallness, an intimacy and immediacy that works well for a contained story about three people, their demons and the demons they see in each other.
Surely the team behind this film, as with They Look Like People, remains one of the most exciting young voices in contemporary genre cinema. They have demonstrated twice now their willingness to explore their unique approach to storytelling unshackled by the damning expectations of industry demands or the comforting trappings of cliché and rigid formulas. The Siren, even in its most apparent of failings, is a triumph. The Siren comes to DVD on January 28th from Dark Sky Films.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
- Director(s): Perry Blackshear
- Writer(s): Perry Blackshear
- Starring: Margaret Ying Drake, MacLeod Andrews, and Evan Dumouchel
- Release: 01/28/20 (Home Video)
- Studio: Dark Sky Films
- Language: English
- Length: 80 Minutes