The Movie Waffler First Look Review - <i>SIREN</i> | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - SIREN

A mysterious, lonely woman possesses a dangerous allure for men.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jesse Peyronel

Starring: Vinessa Shaw, Robert Kazinsky, Bess Wohl, Ross Partridge

"Filmed with flourish and written with careful consideration towards character, Siren is an unassuming gem. You too may find yourself beguiled by the romantic magic of Siren."

There’s no way of knowing conclusively, but, judging by the patriarchal systems that produced such mythologies, it is a pretty safe bet that the figure of the siren, a feature in folklore for at least two millennia, is a male construct, epitomising in its wet platinum allure the twin themes of both male fantasy and fear of women. The fateful figure of the siren, luring sex starved sailors to their doom with nothing more than their pretty looks and sweet song appeals to men’s desires (‘cor, eh lads?!’), but also, the implicit treachery of the sirens’ conduct absolves male responsibility for their actions (‘it weren’t my fault, she’s irresistible!’)- no wonder the myth gained such currency. The archetype became more empowered in Noir’s femme fatale, wherein the duplicitous female was given psychological depth and agency, yet is also persistent in a less cultivated presence within the twofaced chic of supporting villains like Bond girls (‘You’re sexy… but I don’t trust you’; walking satire of all men, Alan Partridge).
The siren is also, evidently, the central figure of Jesse Peyronel’s interesting and enjoyable debut Siren, a film that updates ancient mythology to superstitious Middle America. Cautious harpy Leigh (Vinessa Shaw: shy, lovely) lives alone, deep in the woods away from the rest of the town, lest her autogenetic allure bewitch the men folk of suburbia. And bewitch it does, as one young lad discovers in the opening moments of the film, sneaking into the grounds of her ‘haunted house’, and experiencing a sudden onset of puberty at a mere glimpse of Leigh. The overwhelming damage of this encounter leads the kid’s dad to himself confront Leigh, and inevitably too fall prey to Leigh’s helpless attraction; starting a chain of events that incorporates the guy losing interest in his own wife, the breakup of his family, and his eventual suicide! None of which is Leigh’s fault though: she is cursed with a pheromone that inspires men to see her as their fantasy, their ultimate desire, and won’t stop at reason (or even a simple ‘no’) to consummate their enchanted desires (even a dopey blackbird hurls itself to death against Leigh’s window in a vain attempt to get a peck on the cheek).
In a similar manner to the criminally near-forgotten Martin or indie fave May, Siren reconfigures supernatural tropes within a modern context, rationalising Leigh’s condition within science. Leigh’s childhood spent at a shady scientific institute is gradually revealed in a series of flashbacks, and, wittily, Leigh is beholden by a cosmetic corporation to send a sample of her magical blood once a month to be carefully blended with perfumes! We see the effect of Leigh on men in glimpses and asides, because, unlike the mythology of yore which took male experience as its theme, Siren is more interested in how Leigh is affected by her condition, what a life of being irresistible to the unwanted desires of men would be like. It is always more interesting when films take the side of the ‘monster’, fleshing out the motivations and conditions that these liminal figures exist within; the men under Leigh’s spell are violent and forceful, the other women are jealous and feel threatened by her, leaving us in no doubt as to who is actually cursed in Siren. Hope, however, arrives in the form of rugged drifter Guy (Robert Kazinsky, True Blood), a hunk with convenient anosmia: he can’t smell, so is immune to Leigh’s scent, and, what’s more, spends time around her house with his shirt off, fixing stuff and uttering swoonsome lines like, ‘my rough hands can handle delicate things’ (cor, eh girls?!). Is Leigh destined a happy ever after, or is she about to discover that not only the sirens of fairy tales can be duplicitous?
Although the film gives a cogent account of its ‘enchantment’, I would have liked to have seen further explanation of Leigh’s ability; all of the men in the town seem enthralled by Leigh, but while some go berserk, most just seem to cope with it- does it affect certain men differently? What if, for instance, a gay fella met her- what would he see? However, these are minor gripes, as, filmed with flourish and written with careful consideration towards character, Siren is an unassuming gem. The central conceit is well handled, with just the right amount of satire (when she collects her mail, Leigh has to drape herself in thick robes that resemble nothing less than a burka) and the blossoming relationship between Leigh and Guy is both convincing and funny. You too may find yourself beguiled by the romantic magic of Siren.