By Melissa Antoinette Garza
Truth be known, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the V/H/S trilogy. I watched each of the films once and if I recall correctly, the last two were superior to the first. When I saw the trailer for SIREN, it didn’t resonate that this was a full-length production of a tale in the first V/H/S (2012). I hadn’t seen the anthology since it first arrived on DVD, and it was mostly a forgotten memory.
It wasn’t until after we began watching that my husband pointed out the connection. At that point, I did remember that AMATEUR NIGHT was the best segment in V/H/S. That made me slightly hopeful, but translating any anthology short into a 90-minute film is a difficult task.
The film follows a Siren who falls for an engaged man who frees her. For those unfamiliar, in Greek mythology, Sirens are creatures who lured sailors to their death. In some writings and artistic depictions, they have wings and are cannibals. They are known to use their bodies and voices to seduce their target. Lily (Hannah Fierman) is one of those creatures, but is held hostage in an underground strip club. She is kept in separate space where customers are brought in to see her. There she looks like just an imprisoned naked woman restrained by both a bracelet on her ankle and a locked room with a full-length glass window for viewing.
SIREN (2016) opens with Jonah (Chase Williamson) who is celebrating his pending nuptials, the old-fashioned way, a bachelor party consisting of alcohol, drugs and strip clubs. Jonah’s best friend Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan) wants the night to be one the men will remember. After doing shrooms and kicking back a few drinks, the guys, particularly Mac grow unimpressed with the typical uneventful strip joint they’re at. At the bar, Mac voices his disappointment to a mysterious character who tells him of a private club that guarantees a wild unhinged evening.
They all agree to go to this place that is in the middle of nowhere. On the outside, it appears to be an elite, higher-class establishment. Inside, they meet the owner Mr. Nyx (Justin Welborn). Nyx resembles Paul Williams, but instead of hanging out with The Muppets, he’s chilling with a much darker and more diabolical gang.
The atmosphere of the club and the characters is very reminiscent of the cult classic VAMP (1986), and that’s not a bad thing. When the audience is introduced to the entertainment and décor inside, it’s a transitional moment in the movie. Suddenly it goes from THE HANGOVER (2009) to a straight-up horror flick filled with suspense and intrigue. The change is seamless which makes the instantaneous tension pack a harder and more satisfying punch.
When Jonah is brought over solo to enjoy Lily, he is mystified but outraged that she’s held captive. He can’t help but take action. He frees her and along with his friend Rand (Hayes Mercure) attempts to bolt from the premises. The escape is far from easy as Jonah initially gets lost claiming the club itself changed form. I’m honestly not sure if he’s correct or if it was the shrooms and alcohol. Nonetheless, Lily knows the way and brings him to a bathroom where they hide out. A guard quickly finds them, but she goes on the attack and it is then that Jonah sees her tail come out. Even more disturbing, her mouth changes. It’s so large it takes up half her face and her teeth become sharper. She bite the guard killing him while enjoying the flesh of his neck as a delicacy. Jonah realizes the damsel in distress he saved isn’t a weak scared girl at all. He decides it’s best to leave without her.
Lily however has an affection for Jonah that cannot be stopped. She likes him, a lot! What’s a Siren to do? Thankfully she has a keen sense of smell and the ability to fly so hunting him is far easier than if she were just an obsessed woman.
The party is over as the group of friends find themselves being hunted by Mr. Nyx and his associates while Lily will go through anyone who gets in her way of being with Jonah.
If things weren’t bad enough, while in the club, Nyx’s crew used a drink involving a worm and gave each of them a small square tattoo on the back of their neck. None of the men remember getting the tat, but Nyx is able to use the worm and ink as a tracking device. This was the one aspect that could’ve been explained more. It was a cool addition to the plot, but it raises more questions than are answered. Then again, that’s what sequels are for and hopefully we get one.
Surprisingly, SIREN (2016) was one of the best horror films I’ve seen in years. I would go as far to say that it’s not only worth a rent, but worth the purchase. The plot is compelling. In the moments of placidity, there’s enough funny moments and genuine levity that ensures the film never bores. During the action, the scares, violence and pure intensity are thrilling. The story is a solid fascinating one. In many ways, it is the first of its kind. The antagonist being an obsessed woman, of course isn’t new. There are plenty examples like FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and AUDITION (1999) that share the commonality, but the monstrous appearance of Lily combined with her innocence and strength is an anomaly. It’s an entry that fits somewhere between a contemporary feminist masterpiece, an old-school monster movie and a celebration of modernized Greek mythos.
It isn’t only the storytelling that makes SIREN stand far above most entries, but their sensible and savvy utilization of special effects is refreshing. Generally, CGI is overused, obvious and chosen incorrectly over practical effects. The FX team on SIREN did a phenomenal job breaking that trend. The CGI was realistic and only ever complimented the film. The originality of Lily’s appearance when she manifests into full Siren is quite remarkable and the optical effects, which I believe are both practical and computer generated worked marvels in creating a visual gem.
I would be remiss to leave out the well-chosen and competent cast. The acting for all involved was top-notch. Welborn portrayal of Nyx was superb. He displayed a level of power, but in a peculiar manner that helped make sense out of the bizarre nature of Nyx’s club. It was a wise choice to go for someone of Welborn’s stature and weight rather than a big tough Kane Hodder type. Welborn not only had the look, but carried himself in a confident and even cocky way that helped create the larger-than-life persona. There was an old-school carny feel to Nyx. which when considering the entertainment within the club, made Welborn’s acting choice, nothing short of brilliant.
Another standout was Brittany S. Hall who portrayed Ash, the waitress at Nyx’s club. She conveyed coyness, sensuality, strength and deception without saying very much. When Ash tracks down Jonah, she states she is only there to give him Nyx’s message. Hall’s delivery and mannerisms reveal an arrogance and unspoken knowledge that fascinates the viewer into wanting to know more. Ash’s coercive nature makes the men who go along with drinking a worm or doing as she says, understandable. Ash could have been just a background character, but due to Hall’s captivating performance, she became a pivotal part in the shift of tone and initiation of the final battle between Nyx and Jonah.
Milligan had a difficult task in making Mac sympathetic and likable, yet he did so flawlessly. Mac, without question, is the ringleader. Despite Jonah being the one to free Lily, that would have never occurred if not for Mac’s boredom at the original strip club. With a lot of horror films and even action movies, when a group of men get into trouble, the instigator is typically an obnoxious jerk. The viewer is left thinking “why are they friends with him?!” Here, that never comes up. Even when Mac is snarky, Milligan conducts himself with undeniable charm. When Mac defends bringing the group to Nyx’s club, he still exhibits trustworthiness and loyalty to Jonah. I look forward to Milligan’s future endeavors. His acting is like a perfect mix of Sam Rockwell and Aaron Paul.
Chase Williamson was wonderful as the male protagonist. Jonah’s virtues shine in every scene. When rescuing and eventually running from Lily, both fear and bravery are shown concurrently. Rather than make Jonah a one-dimensional badass that we see way too often in horror and action, we instead have a man who is simply trying to do the right thing. Williamson expertly presents the inner-turmoil as an invisible battle of compassion and self-preservation play out in Jonah’s mind. I would love to see him in a heartfelt drama or a dark action film. He could bring life to a genre that needs a good kick. I see him starring in something similar to the original DEATH WISH (1974) or the underrated DEATH SENTENCE (2007). Though he has the demeanor and appearance of performers like Josh Duhamel and Timothy Olyphant, Williamson has more range as an actor and could succeed as the lead of big-budget mainstream movies.
Lastly, I am so elated Fierman reprised her role as Lily. AMATEUR NIGHT was a solid short, but due to time constraints and the nature of anthologies Fierman was not able to display her full capabilities as an actress. Contrastingly, Lily’s character was fully explored and detailed in SIREN. Fierman took the opportunity to showcase a sympathetic villain which in turn revealed the extent of her effectiveness and skill.
Admittedly, I am a weirdo so I was rooting for Lily the whole time. I hated Jonah’s fiancé Eva (Lindsey Garrett). My husband kept telling me, “Eva’s nice! There’s nothing wrong with her.” That’s true, but I just found her to be an obstacle in Lily and Jonah’s relationship. Even though Jonah wasn’t as psyched about being with Lily as she was to be with him, I though Lily’s adoration was sweet and genuine. Sure, she eats people. Yes, she has a tail and wings. Depending on how you look at things, she could be classified as a bit rape-y; but when there’s a monster who loves a human, I have a soft spot. Whether it’s the Creature from the Black Lagoon, King Kong, Dracula, etc. I always root for them to get the girl so it would be sexist for me to root against Lily! Right? Yes. Right!
Overall, SIREN was a fantastic movie. There were moments that reminded me of JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001), FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996) and LAST SHIFT (2014). All of those are great films, but I dare say that SIREN was superior to all of them.
The embrace of mythology worked remarkably well. The make-up and the CGI used was impeccably done. The realistic reactions of those in the bachelor party to such an insane and supernatural experience was refreshing. The entire cast and crew did a marvelous job without exception. The dialogue, setting, atmosphere was realistic and fit the spirit of the movie. From beginning to ending, everything worked.
I can’t say enough great things about the film. I encourage you to seek it out. It’s available both digitally and on DVD/Blu-ray. You can rent it at Redbox, Amazon and VUDU. That said, I would suggest purchase as this has the same re-watch value as the classic Universal Monster movies.
Scared Stiff Rating: 9/10