Written by: Daniel McDonald
Found Footage. Words that by now can strike fear into hearts of the toughest horror film fans. Yes, I’ll admit I skeptically went into THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT with hope in my heart that a new road to Horror was being paved (much the way I approached the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY parade to cinematic damnation). There is one phrase that can give fans the PG-13 Heebie-Jeebies as terribly as those (for the most part) video cassette catastrophes: Based on a true story… YIKES!
Within each of these severely misjudged, misbegotten, mishandled, Miss Columbia (sorry Steve Harvey, I’m still giggling over THAT one), efforts, there were some horror gems – SINISTER was a film that took the found footage genre as its source material and gave us (in my humble opinion) a truly original, frighteningly mythical, horror presence in a very well-acted (you GO Ethan Hawke!) imaginatively directed and photographed film with one of the most unsettling musical scores I have heard in years.
Another area that contains some hidden treasures, were compilation films. Made up of short, usually independent, interwoven or standalone tales that could (and sometimes did) have the narrative, technical, creative “scare power” of full length studio productions.
In 2012 a hybrid of sorts of both of these types of films was released by The Collective Studio 71. Entitled V/H/S, the production featured six short films tied together by a found footage premise. Ten up and coming horror writers and directors, created their own short horror film which were put together with a found footage story that encases them all.
Receiving generally positive reaction, one episode that seemed to develop a following and strong industry “buzz” was David Bruckner’s AMATEUR NIGHT. The story of some friends taking one of their own out for a “night he’ll never forget” that becomes their worst nightmare, was developed in 2016 into a full length feature film called SIREN.
The film was done on a tight budget and an even tighter 18-day shoot. Without giving away too much more of what is essentially a well-traveled road, I feel compelled to compare the pluses and minuses (or the combination of both) to a film I reviewed last year called EXTRATERRESTRIAL. I’m not in any way speaking about the stories, but the elements used to create them. EXTRATERRESTRIAL took a lot of heat for what many critics (and fans I might add) felt it was a low budget rip-off of several bigger, better science fiction films we’ve all come to expect. I, on the other hand thought it felt much more like an homage to the genre as a whole. The Vicious Brothers took a three million dollar budget and made a film that looked like ten times that. The efforts of the relatively unknown talent in front of as well as behind the camera made familiar tropes seem effectively new again.
Much the same can be said of SIREN. It takes on much bigger themes and challenges than one initially expects. It gives us a villainess that will bring to mind SPECIES and SPLIT, but adds elements from JEEPER’S CREEPERS, XTRO, THE PUPPET MASTERS and many others, mixing futuristic Science Fiction tropes with those from Ancient Witchcraft and Demon Worship. Sexuality and fetishism are explored with a strong reversal of male and female traditional roles in each.
Finally, respect to director/editor Gregg Bishop, writers Ben Collins, Lou Petrowski, wonderful cinematographer George Feucht, rock solid makeup and FX practitioner, Renonda Anderson. And we can’t forget an acting company filled with exceptional talent, led by an extraordinarily gifted hero, Chase Williamson and the only hold-over from the original short (no one else compared) the Siren herself, Hannah Fierman. David Bruckner’s wonderful short film showed us so much promise of things to come, SIREN is another step on that journey… i. J.S.