Directed by Jesse Peyronel
To paraphrase pop-punk superstar Avril Lavigne, he had no sense of smell and she unconditionally released a pheromone preventing her from establishing a meaningful relationship: can I make it any more obvious? We’re back in adult fairy-tale zone, with this modest budget debut feature from British director Jesse Peyronel.
Here the damsel in both distress and the obligatory old fashioned mansion (on the edge of town) is the very sought after Leigh (Shaw). Since puberty she’s secreted a scent that drives men crazy with feelings of love and lust alike. Curiously this same whiff places beauty in the eye of the beholder, altering how they perceive her. This means each sniffer sees a different object of their desire, whatever their race, age or creed. Whilst it may sound great to have a wall lined with fan mail, and declarations of adoration, she can’t stand it. And with reason. In the opening scenes we watch a father and son both fall for her, with the former Carl (Partridge) needing restrained as he violently tries to push himself upon her: something we can assume is a regular occurrence. This, paired with the scorn of the town’s women who think her a home wrecker, renders Leigh’s a life of sad seclusion. The only exception is the telephone calls to researchers who study her scent (via a vial of blood) once a month. Into this setting of despair enter our knight in shining armour: the charismatic ex-military drifter Guy (Kazinsky), who has luckily had his olfactory senses diminished in an unfortunate accident. Initially just passing through, he’s quickly enlisted as an engineer to look at her extensive security system. Before too long he becomes a best friend, a love interest and then a shot at happily ever after. Only, as with all fairy-tales, it just sounds a little too good to be true, right?
The revelation that Guy is not all he seems comes halfway through the film, meaning we spend much of the slow burner’s remainder waiting to see if Leigh finds out about it. Admittedly there are some interesting layers to his backing story, though the trouble is that in terms of story Siren does very little to surprise you. And while all the loose ends are expertly tied together (including the previously mentioned Carl’s stalker behaviour) it goes few places your imagination won’t have visited already. But then perhaps this isn’t the point – maybe the creative team just wanted to put a new spin on an old concept. Is that such a bad thing? Not when there’s such a real dream like quality to the piece, which bursts with symmetry and pastoral majesty. There’s also a truly excellent, if unconventional, fight scene. To host this Peyronel meticulously constructs a contained universe that’s both gothic and, thanks to the many monitors around the house, ultra-modern. Plus the leading lady’s performance is one an audience will likely fall for, along with the various men, meaning it’s far from time badly spent. When Leigh watches a video of her younger self communicating with her (now dead) parents through glass you’ll feel a lump in the throat that gives way to a chuckle when she gets drunk for the first time in her life. Truly, there’s a lot to love about this film.
Yet the inherent predictability of Siren means it seems around ten minutes longer than it should, and sadly some of the more emotionally tense moments fall flat. For instance, when Guy struggles with his mutual love for Leigh and money it ought to feel more involving than it does. Instead it’s all simply too much of an inevitability and so what could be an excellent film is merely a good one. This means that, as with the angsty ridden teen romance of Lavigne’s song, you’ll be disappointed when it’s over. Though, as with her narrator’s ex, years from now the only time it’ll really come to mind is when you see something better.