There’s something in the V/H/S anthology franchise for everyone to love. If exploding cultists are your thing, the V/H/S’s have you covered. Same for lovers of haunted house exorcisms and Faustian magicians. Of course, loving (or sort of liking) a couple of segments was as good as it got for many viewers. As with most anthologies, the original V/H/S is hit and miss. But I think it’s safe to say that one of the strongest shorts was “Amateur Night”. It featured a few reprehensible guys who managed to entice a couple of ladies back to their hotel room. One of those women is very strange indeed. Given the segment’s warm response, it was no surprise when I read that it would be developed into a feature length film, SiREN. (i don’t know why it’s spelled like that, but it is) Expanding a short-but-sweet horror story into a feature isn’t always the best idea. The success of the original is often due to the effectiveness of the scares delivered in a short amount of time. So, does SiREN beat the odds and deliver the goods? Read on.
Jonah is getting married and he chose his pain-in-the-ass, dickish brother as best man over his best friend so as not to hurt bro’s feelings. As such, his bro is throwing him a stag night in Garden City. A place that he claims is cooler than Vegas. The strip club he drags Jonah and the other two groomsmen to is low-rent to say the least. When a shady, mustachioed guy tells the guys he knows of an underground place that is totally rad, they (naturally) follow him to a secluded mansion in a swamp. When hot ladies and masked bouncers open the door and welcome them inside, they enter without hesitation. (why wouldn’t they?) Inside, there are more masked people, some robed and hooded people, and a 95% nude woman performing on stage. Totally normal stuff. They take the seats of honor at the at the foot of the stage and they are personally welcomed by the proprietor, Mr Nyx. Nyx offers the boys a special experience and they all point to the man of the hour, Jonah. It’s his special night. He should be the one to go off by himself in this creepy ass place for a mysterious experience that Nyx assures them will not involve sex. While Jonah is being sung to orgasmic climax by Lily (from “Amatuer Night”. remember?), his buddies are paying with their fondest memories of their mothers. (that’s right, memories. the process involves tattooing for some reason). When Jonah decides to liberate the captive Lily, all hell breaks loose.
I’ll let you off the hook – SiREN did not beat the odds. Part of what made “Amateur Night” so good was it’s instantly established characters (assholes by any measure) and the very strange behavior and mystery of its focal point (Lily). In expanding the concept, the writers (not the writer of the original short, though he does get a ‘based on’ credit) have chosen to focus on the guys in peril and reduce Lily to a natural disaster, ruining everything in her path as the boys scramble to get away from her. Sure, the cult of Mr Nyx is also introduced here, but that mysterious cabal isn’t nearly as engaging as the mystery that is Lily (even if their M.O. is very W.T.F.). Her story is told in quick, broad strokes as if the filmmakers assume that we already know the “twist” so they should get it out of the way as quickly as possible. Which is unfortunate, because Lily’s best line, “I like you” is used only once as a “Whoa! This crazy creature has taken a shine to you!” intensifier instead of – as in the short – a bit of strangeness that throws the viewer off balance. (even as the on-screen characters ignored it with their own libidinous ends in mind) It rings hollow, almost as if the writers didn’t understand the power of the line in the original short. And that may be the case. Now, instead of the uncanny behavior punctuated by intense violence and shocking revelations, Lily is given a voice. A cheesy faux angelic voice AHHHing a few notes so as to ensnare anyone within earshot. (hence, “siren”. but it still doesn’t explain the spelling of the title) A power that only works intermittently it would seem. In the end, what we get is an extended supernatural chase complete with eviscerations and castrations, but no real emotional investment and a nagging sense of disappointment for viewers hoping for subtler creeps and discomfort before the carnage begins.
The Final Cut: Fans of “Amateur Night” will find SiREN nearly unrecognizable and mostly disappointing. The titular creature may offer a few scares to guys who have nightmares about being castrated by women, but others may find the story too full of tired tropes to be very entertaining.