David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” segment of V/H/S is a crowd favorite amongst franchise fans, so you can imagine the excitement surrounding this year‘s feature-length Chiller adaptation. SiREN marks the cinematic return of Hannah Fierman’s beloved psycho-nymph, but how would the devilish songstress fare without a found footage perspective or Bruckner’s vision? V/H/S alumn Gregg Bishop steps in to direct a bachelor-party-gone-wrong script written by Luke Piotrowski, in an attempt to enchant viewers expecting the same obsessive terror with a lesser production feel than Bruckner’s minutes-long short. Prepare to be un-a-mused, hopeless horror romantics…
Chase Williamson stars as the unfortunate apple of Lily’s (Hannah Fierman) eye, a soon-to-be husband named Jonah who’s gearing up for his wild stag party. Brother Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan) is in charge of the festivities, which are of the typical bachelor persuasion. Garden City plays host city to the boy’s perverse night out, but their intended destination of sinful pleasure doesn’t impress like Mac was hoping.
That’s when a tall stranger tells them of a private club where there are no rules, and before long, the party arrives at a lavish mansion. Jonah is taken into a private room by the club’s owner – an eccentric named Mr. Nyx (Justin Welborn) – where a naked girl remains captive in an adjoining room. She begins to sing and transports Jonah to a dreamscape of orgasmic proportions, and after finishing, is released by Jonah out of fear for her life. Little does the stoned client know that Lily is locked away for a reason – a violent, evil reason.
Problem is, SiREN isn’t very polished. Scenes appear rough and unfinished, lazily waltzing through a “watch this bachelor party go horribly wrong!” setup that recycles Lily without amping big-screen appeal. We find out she’d been summoned by some cut-rate cult who couldn’t contain her, when Mr. Nyx steps in as an enchanted controller – that sums up any backstory ambitions. Otherwise it’s all the wing-flapping, face-splitting seducing we’ve seen before, at half the value. Even Lily’s iconic “I love you!” whisper lands with less impact, same as her gory attacks that hide practicality whenever possible. Lily returns, but she’s never given a chance to stretch her wings beyond Bruckner’s initial incarnation.
Granted, the film’s most baffling and hilarious exploration of Lily’s mythos comes during her consummation with Jonah. Oh yes – at one point, Lily gets her way. She flies away with Jonah and, while hypnotized, he gives into Lily’s sexual desires during a Splice-inspired shot of winged demon/human intercourse that includes a very curious tail. We’re talking far worse than a brown thumb.
Why the tail goes exploring makes absolutely no sense, but in this moment, SiREN becomes the movie we so want it to be – an absolutely insane romantic exploitation film between beast and man. Exuberant insanity delves deeper than Welborn’s Southern villain or Lily running around naked, and Bishop channels the zany campiness such a Cupid re-branding deserves.
Yet, that’s where the fun also stops. SiREN is hampered most by a stale Syfy reality, never ascending past an indie-horror vibe wasted on bros, boobs and bad decisions. Characters describe cities as “hot as balls and smelling like hot balls,” psychedelics boost confidence levels and personas mirror cut-outs from any male-driven horror movies of the same ilk.
Mr. Nyx’s 50 North 40 West club may be a new setting, but you’ve seen this setup too many times to be surprised – especially given such little investment into the club’s history and inner workings. Cult appearances and leech-sapped truth serums might mean more given a full exploration of the funhouse, but Piotrowski’s script is narrow-minded in its focus on Lily, and even at that, little development exists beyond “lusty demon chooses her new victim.” I mean, the ending shot says it all – clichéd, digitally bland and wholly evocative of ground-level expectancies for an “Amateur Night” feature.
It’s unfortunate that SiREN can’t chew through scenes like Lily gnaws through human flesh, because there’s certainly horror fun to be had here. Welborn’s menacing sleazeball is wheelhouse material for such an under-appreciated character actor, and Lily gets a few pretty wicked jolts when she enters frame in full monster mode – yet so much else is wasted on being a skin-flick cheesefest without prolific genre power. Lily actually loses visual resonance the more she’s on-screen with her bloodied face, driving home the wooden production notes that downplay a serviceable-at-best handful of Joe-schmo torture pawns. So does this siren sing, a more forgettable tune than we might have hoped.
SiREN never takes Bruckner's original idea and runs with it, failing to capitalize on a demonic romance that so many V/H/S fans demanded to see more of.