Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Siren (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Despite over a century of concerted safety education campaigns, drowning remains a leading cause of death among young men. It most commonly occurs in open water, just a short distance from the shore, and knowing how to swim doesn't always help - even in water that looks calm it's often possible to be caught by a strong current and sucked under. Despite all this, Al (MacLeod Andrews) is not convinced that his husband drowned. He sure that something took him. Now he stores the shores of the lake - a place where an unusually high number of drownings have occurred - with his heart set on revenge.
The Siren was originally titled The Rusalka and is built on the Eastern European myth of betrayed or heartbroken girls who linger as spirits in lonely places, by lakes or streams, and lure lonely travellers to their deaths. Men whom they might find attractive are particularly at risk. "I'm still a girl," stresses the otherwordly protagonist of this tale (Margaret Ying Drake), explaining that her desires are not limited to drowning. But this time things aren't happening the way she expected. The man she has set her sights on - a young holidaymaker called Tom (played by Evan Dumouchel), whom Al has befriended - has something about him that's different. Perhaps it's that he's mute, giving him an outsider status she can relate to. Whatever it is, as he watches her sporting in the water, intrigued, she finds herself equally beguiled by him.
Perry Blackshear's second film as a director is essentially a love story with two major obstacles at its heart: firstly, Al's determination to find and kill the rusalka; and secondly, the fact that if he doesn't then regardless of how loving she feels, sooner or later she will probably kill Tom. In a sense, she and Al are both monsters, both become murderous in response to grief, and the lake comes to seem like a contested territory. Tom, out of place and unable to speak like many a mermaid in folklore, struggles to make sense of events and to establish his own moral direction in distinctly amoral surroundings.
With a haunting choral score by the Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble, The Siren trades heavily on the beauty of its setting and the willingness of its audience to suspend disbelief when lulled by a very traditional approach to storytelling. The presence of the lake means there's always a lot of moisture in the air for Blackshear, whose background is in cinematography, to exploit, and the result is beautifully controlled imagery that always looks natural, even when the light is low.
It's an ambitious project for a relatively inexperienced director to have taken on, with scenes shot at night and underwater. The sheer quantity of time the actors had to spend in the water must have taken its toll and probably accounts for the variable quality of some of the performances. Then there's Tom's muteness, which shifts the balance of the film as Dumouchel has to use all his skills to enable us to connect with his character and get to know him in the short time we have. This inevitably slows the film down, which works within the context of myth but will inevitably put off some viewers. It may well charm fans of films like Ondine; if you're more the Killer Mermaids type, this isn't for you.
Although it doesn't quite succeed in achieving its aims, this film deserves praise both for its ambition and for having the guts to do things differently, finding its own pace and its own voice.Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2019
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