The Siren review: The team behind They Look Like People return with their signature mix of dark and emotional thriller.
In 2015, writer and director Perry Blackshear debuted his first feature, They Look Like People, to the London Frightfest masses. The film, a dark psychological thriller about a man trying to save his friend from the ‘monsters’ he could see, went down well with audiences. We ourselves, described it as Donnie Darko meets Primer, and applauded its quirky and twisting nature. Now four years on, Blackshear returns with his sophomore project, The Siren.
Originally known on the circuit as The Rusalka, the title has recently been changed to The Siren. This move has likely been made so that it is easier for a prospective audience to grasp what the film is about. Unless you’re really into your creatures of mythology, you likely won’t known what a Rusalka is, you may however know what a Siren is. The story follows Tom (Evan Dumouchel), a young mute missionary worker whom falls in love with a mysterious woman called Nina. Nina isn’t quite what she seems however, and is actually a Rusalka (a lovesick women who drowns herself and is then cursed to drown men). Against better judgement, the pair fall in love, but unbeknown to them, their neighbour Al (MacLeod Andrews) is on the hunt for answers about his husband’s drowning at the lake. As the three characters interact, events spiral and things take a dark turn.
As with previous film They Look Like People, on paper, The Siren might not be your typically expected film to screen at a genre festival. The film is essentially a love story, but who said a love story had to be sweetness and light? Some of the best love stories around are tinged with tragedy and darkness, The Siren is no exception, and it is these darker components which lends itself to play at a genre festival such as Frightfest.
A film featuring a mute person falling in love with a sea-creature will of course draw comparisons to The Shape of Water, but The Siren falls more in line with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring. Spring has a very Before Sunrise vibe to it, and Blackshear taps into a similar vein here. Indie in it’s look, tone and feel, The Siren is shot beautifully, relying on natural light and shadow to convey the story. The location is stunning and the cinematography captures the landscape in an almost dream-like manor, coating the lens with that fairy-tale charms that is befitting of the story unfolding. The extensive use of outdoor scenes bathed in sunshine contrast with They Look Like People‘s dark interior setting, proving that Balckshear is more than a one-trick auteur.
The dynamic between Evan Dumouchel’s Tom, and Margaret Ying Drake’s Nina, is electric. It helps that they’ve worked together previously (both starred in They Look Like People) and their familiarity with one another helps sell their relationship. Dumouchel does a fantastic job communicating as Tom, playing a character that cannot speak is never an easy task for an actor, but he pulls it off brilliantly. Drake maintains a faultless balance of allure, vulnerability and aggression throughout, eliciting vast amount of sympathy for her tragic character. MacLeod Andrews also gives a solid performance as grieving widow Al. Scenes involving all three are particularly interesting to watch play-out.
Though the pace is very slow and deliberate. there is still plenty of tension. Tom is wary of water, almost to phobic levels, but his need for Nina draws him. Nina is a water-dwelling being whom is destined to murder many. The two of them together in and around the water creates a nice layer of added tension and danger. Tom being so close to a body of water makes him very vulnerable, and the viewer knows Nina could easily dispatch him, and he would be powerless against her. Blackshear keeps the audience firmly on edge as we watch Nina struggle with the duality of her psyche.
A well thought-out sombre sophomore feature, The Siren may on the surface be a simplistic tale of love, but it hides a wealth of danger and pathos underneath.
The Siren review by Kat Hughes, March 2019.
The Siren screens at Glasgow Frightfest. The film will be released under Frightfest Presents on DVD and Digital HD on May 20th