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Film Review: ‘Siren’

A bachelor party finds a little more excitement than it can handle in fun horror opus "Siren."

With:
Chase Williamson, Justin Welborn, Michael Aaron Milligan, Hayes Mercure, Randy McDowell, Hannah Fierman, Lindsey Garrett.

Easily the best segment in the 2012 franchise-starting, found-footage omnibus “V/H/S” was its first, “Amateur Night,” in which a trio of frat-type dudes out to shoot some consensual-or-not porn with unwitting “real” girls find that one bar pickup isn’t a girl — or even human — at all. It was short, sweet, and shocking. None of those qualities quite carry over to “Siren,” a belated feature expansion of the earlier film, with Hannah Fierman the only major returning talent, as the titular creature. Encompassing more conventional genre material than its predecessor (and jettisoning the found-footage angle, perhaps thankfully), this is nonetheless an energetic and entertaining exercise that could spawn its own spin-offs. Chiller Films opened “Siren” on a handful of U.S. screens Dec. 2, with DVD and streaming release following four days later.

After a prelude, in which a sheriff and the cowboy-hatted Mr. Nyx (Justin Welborn) discover the bloody aftermath of an apparent occult ritual, we enter standard horror terrain with the introduction of young protagonists whose numbers will surely dwindle in short order. It’s the bachelor party for generic nice guy Jonah (Chase Williamson), who’s about to marry Eva (Lindsey Garrett). He assures her he won’t be getting up to much trouble; neither he nor best men Elliott (Randy McDowell) and Rand (Hayes Mercure) are much inclined toward hedonistic excess. Unfortunately, they’re at the mercy of Jonah’s brother Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan), who promptly ditches their cellphones (so no girlfriends or spouses can be contacted mid-revel), breaks out the drugs, and hustles the otherwise reluctant group to the nearest strip club.

Truly wild nightlife proves hard to find, however, at least until an insinuating stranger claims he can lead them to the “real underground” local party scene. This involves a disquietingly long drive to the middle of nowhere. But at road’s end, the stag quartet find themselves faced with an incongruous mansion-full of upscale club/bordello kinkiness under the proprietorship of the aforementioned Mr. Nyx. Suspicious exotic libations are drunk, smirking staffers (looking like a cross between Burning Man attendees and Russian mafia) are goaded, and, as a special treat, Jonah is hustled off to a side chamber for a promised “experience” that will be memorable, but not — in deference to Eva — involve actual physical contact.

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The experience turns out to be sexual, however, despite Jonah and the mysterious Lily (Fierman) being different rooms, with a window in-between. All it takes for the imminent newlywed to experience an earth-shaking orgasm is for her to press up to the glass. Upon leaving, he takes note of her locked cell and assumes she is being held against her will. He’s right about that, but very wrong in freeing her, which has immediate unfortunate consequences for everyone — not least for Jonah, to whom this shape-shifting “Lilith” now has an emotional attachment, and woe betide anyone who gets in her way. The bachelor party members flee, pursued not only by that amorous, now-not-so-pretty critter but also by her enraged keeper Nyx and his goons.

Director Gregg Bishop, who made two prior indie genre features before contributing to 2014 franchise entry “V/H/S Viral,”  replaces original segment helmer/co-writer David Bruckner (“Southbound”).  Here, Bishop, along with scenarists Luke Piotrowski and Ben Collins, hits some pretty familiar notes. The yuppie-terrorizing badass villains and their only-in-the-movies decadent pleasure-palace are redolent of “Hostel,” “From Dusk Till Dawn” and so forth. The semi-tongue-in-cheek tone makes for a flying-stalker-creature movie that’s less scary than “Jeepers Creepers,” and “Lily’s” backgrounding mythology is not very fully explained. (Her “siren song” could be a lot more distinctive, too.)

Stlll, “Siren” is lively if occasionally rough around the edges, packing a satisfying amount of action and a couple of amusingly nasty surprises into its short running time. Performers are game, and digital FX are wisely kept rationed until the last reel. While the concept’s potential isn’t fully tapped, there’s enough fun to be had here that one hopes any future installments will sustain and increase the air of macabre unpredictability rather than succumbing to the succubus-slasher model of the “Species” films, which have a somewhat similar gist.

Film Review: 'Siren'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Nov. 12, 2016. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: A Chiller Films release of a Chiller Films presentation of a Studio 71 production. Producers: Gary Binkow, Jude S. Walko, Brad Miska. Executive producers, Andrew Reyes, David Bruckner, Thomas P. Vitale, Justin Smith.

Crew: Director/editor: Gregg Bishop. Screenplay, Ben Collins, Luke Piotrowski, based on the short “Amateur Night” by David Bruckner. Camera (color, HD), George Feucht.

With: Chase Williamson, Justin Welborn, Michael Aaron Milligan, Hayes Mercure, Randy McDowell, Hannah Fierman, Lindsey Garrett.

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