“My Favourite Movie Of The Year” (so far): Darren Gaskell Reviews The Siren (2019)

also known as “The Rusalka”

At a secluded lakeside spot, Al (MacLeod Andrews) is searching for the creature which murdered his husband. Meanwhile, the deeply religious Tom (Evan Dumouchel) arrives at one of the holiday cabins and soon attracts the attention of a mysterious girl (Margaret Ying Drake) who seems to spend most of her time swimming in the very same lake where a worrying number of people have drowned.

People who know me will be aware of just how much I love director Perry Blackshear’s previous movie They Look Like People (and if you haven’t seen it, you really should). I must admit, I approached this follow-up with more than a little trepidation, hoping it would be great but bracing myself for the potential disappointment.

What the hell did I worry for? This became my favourite movie of the year when I saw it at FrightFest Glasgow and I love it even more after having watched it again. It looks beautiful, it’s fiercely romantic and the underlying tension is built deftly. In the hands of less skilled filmmakers, elements such as a mute main character and the exploration of a gay marriage could have been clumsily handled but here these details develop organically and enhance the story rather than overwhelm it.

I first saw this under its original title of The Rusalka but whatever it’s called this a film which demands – and rewards – patience. The story unfolds in an unsensational, natural way but it’s this approach which makes it so much easier for the viewer to identify and become involved with the otherwise otherworldly events taking place.

The three principal characters are detailed, flawed and real, all of them fascinating in their own different ways. Each is looking for meaning, searching for the truth and eventually coming to terms with the consequences of making life-changing decisions. Yes, even the monster gets a backstory here.

All of this wouldn’t land anywhere near as well if it didn’t have the performances to match and the stellar work from MacLeod Andrews, Evan Dumouchel and Margaret Ying Drake makes this a captivating, suspenseful experience. They play off each other in an impressively unshowy way which draws the viewer in even further.

Blackshear isn’t someone who’ll go for the obvious jump scare when there’s real fear to be mined from the thought of just what might or might not be out there in the dark. I found myself holding my breath at the possibility of something ghastly lurking just out of shot or in the murky depths of the lake. Dumouchel in particular really sells the panic which is there under the surface of his brave face and there’s a refreshing lack of histrionics even in the creepiest moments.

In fact, The Siren delights in smartly subverting trope after trope, whether it’s your standard monster movie set up or the expected elements of a classic fairytale. I was too wrapped up in the whole thing the first time I watched to home in on the finer details but a second viewing gave me the opportunity to lock in on just how many times the structure of the time-honoured fable has been given a pleasing twist.

From the beginning, nothing seems cut and dried. An ominous sense of impending doom hangs over the proceedings but for whom? It’s not clear until the very end and the messy, emotional conclusion is, in my opinion. perfect. It’s yet another example of how the horror genre is easily the most interesting and varied out there and The Siren has now left me a wreck twice. But in a good way.

This is wonderful, heartfelt film making by a group of people whose work deserves to be seen far and wide. Please seek it out.

Rating: 5/5

The Siren is available on DVD in the UK from Signature Entertainment under the “FrightFest Presents” banner.

About celluloiddeej

Film fan, horror festival goer, karaoke enthusiast, cat whisperer, world traveller, complete idiot. Invite me on your podcast if you can stand the Yorkshire accent.

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