So, here is, as promised, a film review! I've not written any reviews for over ten years, ever since I wrote write-ups of video nasties under a pseudonym for a now-defunct website. Please enjoy, any feedback appreciated!
In these days of torture porn and zombie overload it’s rare (and nice) to find a British horror film that dares to do things a little differently. Siren is one such beast. Not only does it not feature anyone tied to a chair or any instance of the walking dead, it’s also based on a legend which, to my knowledge, has not yet had a fright flick based on it.
The film starts with a nice sleight of hand – A stunning temptress in a short red dress and high heels is hitching a ride out in what we shortly learn is the landscape of rural Greece, she is picked up by an English guy in a posh car and proceeds to, well, pleasure herself under his watchful gaze. Soon they pull up to a seemingly abandoned public toilet and proceed to get it on, although this is interrupted when she believes she sees a woman’s face spying on them. We then learn that the man and woman are actually a couple role-playing the encounter, and that this is merely a game they are playing en route to taking a boat to a remote island, which, legend has it, is the same isle mentioned in The Odyssey (as one character amusingly puts it “Greek Mythology! Didn’t you ever see Clash Of The Titans?”) where Odysseus and his crew encountered the Sirens, a race of deadly seductresses who could paralyse men with their songs.
Along for the ride is the woman (Rachel, played by Anna Skellern, also of The Descent Part 2)’s old university friend Marco (Anthony Jabre), who, we soon learn, is an old flame who now regrets having deserted her. Her current boyfriend (Ken, played by male model-turned-actor Eoin Macken, who wanders around with his shirt off rather a lot) turns out to be a bit of a cocksure idiot, of the sort that we hope is going to suffer a horrible death at some point. They come across a man desperately signalling for help in the water, and get him aboard to find he is ranting and raving, and waving a knife about, before they realise his ears have been perforated. Soon after, the man expires, and they decided (rather stupidly) that rather than be strangers in a strange land turning over a dead body to the authorities (“They hang people for this here don’t they?”), they should bury him on the island. However, they are discovered in the act by a beautiful yet mysterious woman who claims to be connected to the dead man, yet seems to be suffering from shock. They take her in, and, gradually, she begins to seduce all three of them...
Well, the film is called Siren, so the true identity of ‘Silka’ (played by the attractive Tereza Srbova, who heats up the screen but is wisely given little dialogue, mainly due to her heavy accent) isn’t exactly a massive mystery, but that’s not what this film is about – It’s about attraction and seduction, with the interplay between the characters being the intrigue, and the sun-bleached setting (actually filmed in Tunisia) fitting the steamy interaction perfectly. In some ways the film reminded me more of the languid erotic nightmares of Jean Rollin than anything in the modern horror pantheon, although here we have believable characters with fairly good dialogue, and some halfway decent acting (especially in the case of Skellern, who stands out). The film is strangely chaste in it’s depiction of nudity – most of the characters (yes, including the two women) end up sleeping together or kissing, yet apart from Ken (aptly named!) showing off his hairless six-pack, and a shot of the women’s posteriors, that’s all we get (and, sorry to all you bloodhounds out there, there’s not tons of gore either, aside from a couple of stabbings, some bleeding ears and a rather gruesome corpse), yet it works because of it’s steamy and pervasive atmosphere, heightened by both the excellent cinematography of Will Humphris and the siren’s song itself (‘Elephant’ by the currently uber-cool band Warpaint).
In doing a spot of research whilst writing this review, I was rather surprised by the reaction to it online – IMDB has an average user rating of 3.4 out of 10, a level usually reserved for the sort of films parodied on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Many of the negative reviews seem to focus on two points – Firstly that the film is boring – a charge also levelled at the films of the aforementioned Jean Rollin, who has a rabid cult following who love the dreamlike fluid pace of his movies, so perhaps this film may find it’s audience in time? Secondly, they seem to be complaining that the DVD cover, of a bikinied lady carrying a bloody knife, has nothing to do with the film itself. I agree that this is utterly misleading. I had the good luck to catch this film on the big screen at the excellent Abertoir Festival in November 2010, so I had no expectations, and was delightfully surprised at this obviously very low budget but intriguing film – If you are being sold it as a boobs-and-blood mayhem fest, you are definitely going to feel cheated. If, however, you approach with an open mind and don’t expect the earth, perhaps you too will be seduced by this Siren.
PS I was saddened of the death of director Andrew Hull at the age of 46. Siren was his first feature film, and it would have been great to see what he could have done with proper studio backing.