Tuesday, December 6, 2016

She Won't Bite: “SiREN” never lives up to short-form counterpart


SiREN (2016) 
82 min., not rated (equivalent of an R).

2012’s wickedly fun found-footage horror anthology “V/H/S” got off to a bang with David Bruckner’s segment “Amateur Night.” Three infantile fratboy types, one of them wearing a hidden eyeglass camera to record their sexcapades and comparably decent for being the token geek, hit up the bars to pick up girls and take them back to their hotel room. In a wallflower named Lily (Hannah Fierman), they think they have found an easy target, until she ends up turning the tables on them by revealing her true self: a winged, genital-ripping succubus. A thrillingly scary, bloody, quickly paced ride, Bruckner had accomplished surprises, jolts and ingenuity in less than 20 minutes, and the first-person conceit gave the story an effective immediacy. Four years later, director Gregg Bishop (2008’s “Dance of the Dead”) decided to expand “Amateur Night” into a feature with “SiREN” (a needlessly stylized title, by the way). The ethereal, Margaret Keane-eyed Hannah Fierman luckily reprises the role of Lily because she ends up being this spin-off’s constant asset.

En route to live up the underground party scene of Garden City, New Jersey, for his stag night, groom-to-be Jonah (Chase Williamson) learns the truth about the best-laid plans. With the bad influence of his brother and best man, Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan), Jonah and pals Rand (Hayes Mercure) and Elliot (Randy McDowell) end up getting pulled to a gentleman’s club unlike any other. It’s a remote mansion where the clientele and the strippers are quite unusual. Since it is Jonah’s night, the establishment’s proprietor Mr. Nyx (Justin Welborn) directs him to a private room with the mysterious Lily (Hannah Fierman). She instantly likes him and tempts him with a song that unleashes a spell on Jonah, who believes she might be a victim of sex trafficking and lets her out of her locked cell. Silly Jonah.

As a byproduct of being inspired by a superior anthological segment, “SiREN” just comes across as a competent but no-great-shakes creature feature. Without the exhilarating hook of the found-footage aesthetic, the result more closely resembles a traditionally shot narrative hodgepodge of “Species,” “Splice” and “Jeepers Creepers” (the last couple of shots particularly feel derived from the latter). There is a playfully forbidding tone laid, and similar to the shifting of gears in “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Hostel,” the ingestion of drugs and pleasure-seeking eventually morph into a total nightmare where limbs could potentially be lost. Director Gregg Bishopp (who did contribute a story to 2014’s “V/H/S: Viral”) and screenwriters Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski do open up a would-be mythology with a twisted underground world in which clients are branded and pay with their memories, which are extracted by a leech in the back of their necks. This padding is a nice try, but it asks more questions than it answers and doesn’t really add much in the long run. Visually and aurally, the craftiest set-piece occurs in a diner where Jonah prevents succumbing to Lily’s song by blocking it out with a pair of earbuds and then proceeds to crawl around and hide behind booths and counters as the bodies of patrons and policemen keep getting thrown his way. 

Rather than exploring Lily’s origin, “SiREN” begins in a church with Mr. Nyx first meeting a young, bloody-mouthed Lily as the result of an occult ceremony gone wrong. From there, this feature-length expansion already puts the viewer steps ahead of the dunderheaded Jonah and his chums and mostly repeats its short-form counterpart to which it never lives up. The male friends do get a little more characterization, and Chase Williamson and Hayes Mecure are likable enough as Jonah and best friend Rand, respectively. Justin Wellborn also works time-and-a-half in the mustache-twirling and scenery-chewing departments to tiresome degrees, but he does make Lily's keeper, Mr. Nyx, detestable. The standout of the piece, though, remains Hannah Fierman. As the angelic but deadly Lily, she fills out the supremely creepy make-up again, gets to deliver her creepily amusing line (“I like you!”) a few times and spends most of the film without any clothes. The compact running time surely helps, too, but if it’s a otherworldly horror romance you seek, 2015’s “Spring” was an overlooked gem, or just go back to the source. If only Lily’s favorite catchphrase could be applied here.

Grade:

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