If horror remakes, prequels and rehashes as a whole are finding it difficult to put asses in theater seats these days, it’s because some of us know where the action is: in the VOD and streaming rental queues. Yep, there’s a lot of garbage to wade through in these parts, too, but stumbling across that one little gem always makes it a worthwhile slog. And on this particular excursion, director Gregg Bishop’s SIREN (2016) has made it more than worthwhile. And mind you, I wanted to make this review about the unrated version of the film, and to do that, I had to roll the dice and buy a DVD copy.
And I couldn’t be happier to make this one a permanent part of my library!
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past decade or so, you are at the very least, somewhat familiar with the V/H/S franchise. You know – the anthology flick franchise that had some really under-par stories, a couple of good ones, and then in each installment, one story that had tongues wagging well after the credits rolled. Let me ask you to dig back in your memory banks for one episode in particular: “Amateur Night”, from the first V/H/S. The one about the frat boy fuck-ups who had a pair of spyglasses, with the intent of drugging a girl, dragging her back to their room and filming her starring in a gang-bang with them. Well, as it turned out, the ‘girl’ they ran into was “Lily”, and…let’s just say the best-laid plans of mice and men went tits-up in an insanely terrifying way.
That neat little short film, written and directed by David Bruckner (THE SIGNAL, SOUTHBOUND) has been adapted into a full-blown screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, and what a hell of a job they’ve done with it. As great as the original short was, the new ‘model’ makes it look like a Ford Pinto, and the BEST part? HANNAH FIERMAN, who left such an unforgettable impression with horror fans as ‘Lily’, returns in the role to captivate and terrify us once again!
Bachelor parties…bachelorette parties…WHEN in the hell will people in horror films learn that they NEVER lead to anything good? Well, it won’t be in THIS film, as Jonah (CHASE WILLIAMSON of THE GUEST and BEYOND THE GATES) is dragged reluctantly to a pathetic stripper bar by his pals Rand, (HAYES MERCURE), Elliott (RANDY MCDOWELL, ONE MISSED CALL and V/H/S: VIRAL), and the natural ringleader of this hot mess of a celebration, his older brother, Mac (MICHAEL AARON MILLIGAN, DON’T KILL IT and V/H/S: VIRAL).
When things are less than ‘partylicious’ at the Garden City, FL dive of a stripper bar that Mac has taken them to, a mysterious stranger, (WILLIAM MARK MCCULLOUGH, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, FREE STATE OF JONES, MY FATHER DIE) makes them an offer they don’t refuse – which they should have, of course: to steer them towards a place of unknown delights, so secretive that it doesn’t have a fixed location, and therefore, it’s only name is its GPS coordinates (tonight, it happens to be called “50 North, 40 West”).
To put it mildly, this place makes the “Hotel California” look like a Motel 6, as the boys, hopped up on ‘shrooms courtesy of Mac, are witness to some sights they can’t explain or decipher…and none of which have anything to do with how high they are. It’s here that they meet the proprietor, Mr. Nyx, (JUSTIN WELLBORN of SOUTHBOUND, V/H/S: VIRAL and THE FINAL DESTINATION), who promise them an experience they won’t forget, but most especially, one that Jonah will always remember. (Understatement). That surprise turns out to be Lily, and we learn some interesting things about her that weren’t revealed in the original story.
As per the title, Lily is a Siren, and if you don’t key off of that at all, go back to your Greek Mythology and look them up. Jason – of the “Golden Fleece” fame – and his men happened to have an epic run-in with these creatures once, and it almost ended badly. REALLY badly. Well, Lily is one of those, and she’s attracted to really nice guys – of which Jonah is one, unfortunately for HIM – hence her chilling declaration and the movie’s tag line: “I like you!” In his drugged state, he’s helpless to resist the full effect of Lily’s powers, and when she’s done with him, he’s seized with an unstoppable urge…to set her free. She’s captured by Nyx in a quick prologue, and apparently, he’s had her locked up until now, for some very good reasons. Jonah ropes in his BFF Rand to help him free her. Needless to say that once they do, all unholy hell breaks loose.
The rest of the film is nail-biting, as the guys are pursued by Lily, who is stalking her new ‘mate’, Jonah, and by Nyx, who knows that Jonah is his best bet to get his “star attraction” back. All through the second and third acts, I kept expecting things to take the cliched route, and I was pleasantly shocked to find that at no time does that ever happen! Even the ending, which naturally mirrors the one from the original version, has a slight surprising twist to it.
Rarely do you ever get an outstanding “retelling” of an existing story like this, and SIREN should be a blueprint for the launch of a brand-new horror sub-genre that really hasn’t been explored successfully in a while: giving strong horror characters from anthologies their own vehicles. You could cite something like ANNABELLE from THE CONJURING series as an example, except that was not an anthology. From what I understand, some other releases are coming out, utilizing characters from the stronger stories featured in other anthologies, and if this is any indication of what to expect, I’m looking forward to seeing much, much more!
First off, a tip of the hat immediately goes to Justin Wellborn. His Mr. Nyx is, like Andrew Divoff’s djinn from WISHMASTER, Tony Todd’s “undertaker” from FINAL DESTINATION, or even the late, great Angus Scrimm of PHANTASM fame, one of those characters that you can’t take your eyes off of from the first moment he comes onscreen, to the last scene he has in the movie. And his presence is always felt by the other characters, even when he’s not there. The whole conceit of this ever-mobile bawdy house of sexual alchemy is so strongly established and spellbinding, that a prequel about his and his establishment’s origins could be an incredible idea…if done as well as SIREN is.
Second bit of props goes to the principals. Unlike “Amateur Night”, where all but one of the guys are roaring assholes, the actors make these guys likeable, even Milligan’s Mac, who does have a good heart underneath his armor of total douchiness. And you feel for Williamson’s Jonah, who slowly begins to realize as the shit gets deeper and deeper, what he’s gotten himself and his friends into by releasing Lily.
Oh, and speaking of Lily – if you are familiar with “Amateur Night”, you may remember the goosebumps you got when seeing her revealed in all her otherworldliness. Hannah Fierman, from her expressions to every single movement and inflection, BECAME Lily, and the potential for carrying that character over into a bigger story with a wider canvas, was too good for the filmmakers to resist, and thank our lucky stars for that! Now with more depth to her character, Hannah gets to literally spread those wings and really go to new places with the character. I didn’t expect to see her in action again after V/H/S, but now that they’ve given her another life, and in such a great property, I don’t find it hard to admit at all that I still want MORE! WHOA! The movie’s as addictive as its lead character! Who knew?
Bishop, no stranger himself to the V/H/S franchise (he wrote, produced and directed the “Dante The Great” segment of V/H/S: VIRAL), has done David Bruckner’s original vision proud, and if they do decide to continue Lily’s thrilling, chilling adventures, I hope they recruit him for the next go-round. Or the prequel idea about the “Satanic” stripper bar that’s a creeping cousin to the infamous “Titty Twister.”
SIREN gets a strong four out of five stars from me!