The Rusalka is a Slavic folk tale where a broken-hearted or betrayed woman is murdered or commits suicide by drowning. Afterward, she is left as a ghostly mermaid-like creature that is forced to live out her days luring men into the water to their death. Writer/director Perry Blackshear’s The Siren tells a variation of this legend, one that carries the core elements of the rich folklore it is based on...
...The Siren begins with a devastated Al (MacLeod Andrews) following the loss of his husband Michael, who drowned in the water next to where they live. He has become convinced that a monster killed Michael, a woman much like the Rusalka who once died of a broken heart in the lake and now seduces others into the water to meet the same demise. The discovery that several others have met a similar end over the past few years fuels Al’s obsession to find this creature and kill it. The viewer is then introduced to Tom (Evan Dumouchel), a man who is taking a mysterious vacation from his Christian ministry and ends up renting the cabin next door to Al’s house. Tom’s sabbatical is never explicitly explained, however there is a sense he is running away or perhaps searching for something beyond what his faith has provided.
The newly acquainted neighbors are soon unknowingly consumed by the same pursuit, as the last of the three main characters is introduced. To Tom, she is a dazzling woman named Nina (Margaret Ying Drake) and a passionate spark is immediately lit between them. To Al, she is the monster, and he continues his emotionally charged quest for vengeance of his love’s untimely death. This sets up a cinematic tension that is gloriously presented. Even the tender moments carry with them a sense of unease that can only be cultivated by someone who completely understands their craft. Blackshear has created a story that will resonate with any who have dealt with loss or experienced an intense and deeply real connection, only to have it thwarted by things outside of their control.
A film like this could easily lose the plot, or worse, dive too far into absurdity. Instead, The Siren is told with a sincerity that subverts so many genre tropes, while still maintaining suspense throughout. The ever-present, lingering threat behind even the heartwarming moments is what ultimately makes this film transcend beyond the typical monster movie.
The most brilliant part of The Siren is the fact that Nina is never shown as anything but a human, with the sound design and the visual effects constructing a distinctly monstrous impression. It's a compelling and inspired choice, as is the minimalist approach to the score. Most of the music is composed of vocal-only songs by the Kitka Women's ensemble with a haunting and alluring effect, much like the film it accompanies.
The Siren really only has 3 characters that share the screen for a majority of the run time. Each actor displays an understanding of the motivations of their character so comprehensive that they are fully formed to the audience even when the context isn't directly provided. It's wonderful to see such strong performances from the three leads. Especially noteworthy is the unbelievable chemistry between Tom and Nina. Together, Dumouchel and Ying Drake forge a magical connection despite what should be hindering limitations making it even stronger and showing how superbly adept the actors truly are. Al interacts with both Tom and Nina, but where he shines is in his voiceovers and moments alone where the grief, confusion, and sadness are so palpable the viewer can feel it through the screen. A film with such limited resources is only as good as the believability of its actors. Luckily, all three excel at telling a haunted and layered tale.
The only slight that can be said about The Siren is the cinematography, which was done by Blackshear himself. It is at times uneven and unsure of itself, while at others perfectly able to capture the story. One would like to see what could have happened if another director of photography was on board to ensure consistency. However, the budget may have been the reason for this, and ultimately it takes nothing away from the powerful film presented. This is a beautiful slow burn that deals more with feeling than fright, and it is one that horror fans should enjoy and seek out.
The Siren is now on VOD from Dark Sky Films.
By Justin Drabek
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