The Movie Waffler Waffling With... <i>SIREN</i> director JESSE PEYRONEL | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With... SIREN director JESSE PEYRONEL

We chatted with Jesse Peyronel, writer-director of the adult fairy-tale Siren.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Vinessa Shaw plays Leigh in the film, a woman who is cursed with the ability to make every man she meets fall completely in love with her.
Vinessa’s performance is the heart of the film, and a very complex role. She must be one of the most powerful people on the planet, yet she is vulnerable and clearly bruised by her experiences. It is quite interesting to see a grounded exploration of such ‘powers’ in a climate rife with superheroics. I wonder if you’d like to talk a little bit about Vinessa’s performance and the character of Leigh.

I had been a fan of Vinessa’s since I was a kid (Ladybugs, but more relevantly Eyes Wide Shut), and was impressed with her recent work in Two Lovers. When we met I knew she could embody Leigh’s vulnerability and hidden power.
As far as the character, I set out to tell an intimate story that would speak to my sensibilities, a dark modern fairytale by way of The Twilight Zone. Also, I am a big fan of comics and wanted to tell a grounded take on what it would be like to have a mutant power. An intimate, relatable, X-Men story, if you will.

Siren seems to update folklore to a modern context: there are still forbidden woods, a hooded woman, a ‘huntsman’, but magic and untrustworthy aristocracy are updated to science and shady corporations. Was this a deliberate approach? Were there any particular legends or folklore that you looked at when writing Siren?

Yes, it was certainly deliberate. I grew up reading and rereading the classic Grimm stories, whose sensibility certainly lived up to the authors’ name. I’ve always loved mythical stories that tap into our urban lives, like the bookends to The Neverending Story where Bastian finds the book in a tiny old city bookstore. It felt relatable and magical at the same time… something I tried to emulate (and update) in Siren.

In keeping with the modernised approach of Siren, how much of the film has a satirical intent? We side with Leigh throughout, and men are by turns shown to be weak, by turns lustful and open to corruption. All folklore have a moral purpose; what is Siren’s?

The women in my life have been incredibly smart and strong, and art should reflect that.
I love writing strong female characters, even those who seem weak at first, or trapped. It seems important to tell genre stories where women aren’t simply “damsels in distress” or other clichés there to serve the male lead. Having said that, “message movies” can be boorish, so dressing up positive ideas with satire and thrills is more entertaining and effective. Hopefully.

Siren Is really difficult to pigeonhole in terms of genre. It is often quite sweet and funny, yet Leigh’s curse is devastating and never played for laughs. Was it a challenge to manage the shifts in texture and tone? How would you classify Siren?

I intended to make a film that shifted in tone and genre, from fairy tale to romance to thriller, with the music, pacing, production design, even colours changing throughout to reflect that. Pulling that off was certainly a challenge, both in production and after, when trying to sell it to festivals and distributors. Audiences seemed to dig the originality of that shift, but buyers need a clean, concise way to sell a film product, and that’s totally understandable… so I describe Siren as a “dark modern fairy-tale.” 

I really enjoyed Siren, but, sticking with you, how would you pitch Siren to TMW readers?

I’m really pleased you enjoyed Siren; thanks for taking the time to write about it. This is my pitch:
Siren is a unique, dark, modern-day fairy tale, about a girl with an unusual curse:  she gives off a scent that makes every man who meets her visualize the woman of their dreams and fall madly in love with her. Siren stars Vinessa Shaw (Side Effects, Two Lovers, Eyes Wide Shut) and Rob Kazinsky (Pacific Rim, True Blood, the upcoming Warcraft). The film is the debut feature for writer-director Jesse Peyronel.