Starring: Sola Aoi Ikki Funaki Jun'ichi Kawamoto Hideaki Mizuki Kazuyoshi Ozawa
Running time: 76 min.
Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
The difference between an homage and a rip-off is something frequently debated and measured in different ways by film fans. However, whenever an obvious rip-off of something much better appears, I don’t think there is very much confusion or disagreement regarding what it actually is and what it is trying to do – especially if it is a bad rip-off. Signs of borrowing in an homage can be obvious, but they can also be forgiven if the end result is sincere or original enough. A good homage will always amount to something more than its references. A true rip-off, on the other hand, is shameless, ungrateful and selfishly made. Its makers seek to ride on the coattails of previous works solely to reap as many benefits as possible – all with little or no signs of gratitude, respect or originality.
Which brings me to 2003’s "Siren" (AKA "Erotic Ghost: Siren"). After the opening sequence in which AV star Sola Aoi mysteriously emerges from the sea naked, the film begins with five bank robbers concluding a successful heist. As they drive to their hideaway, it is revealed that they have been assigned code names mostly taken from movie serial killers. There’s Lector, Freddie, Jason, Chucky and...erm, Jews. No, I can’t recall which serial killer movie that one’s from either. Anyways, when the crooks stop to pick up food and supplies, they encounter the alluring Aoi, now clad in a colorful, revealing outfit. They kidnap her after she sees their loot and hold her prisoner at their temporary home base. The criminals talk about their plans for their shares and squabble over which one of them will take advantage of the girl. Strange deaths among their ranks begin to occur, and the gang slowly falls apart due to confusion and suspicion, its members not fully grasping the true source of danger until too late.
Right away, it is clear that "Siren" only ever aims low, and it hits its low points accordingly. The robbery premise is clearly lifted from "Reservoir Dogs," and of course, it never even begins to match that film’s merits. One could argue that it never even tries – the formula is simply there, swiped and used in a lazy, uninspired fashion. Everything about how the "Dogs" model is used in "Siren" can be gleaned from the clumsy flashback to the heist. Through shaky, handheld camerawork, the crooks are shown running to their getaway vehicle as rock music blares on the soundtrack and, amusingly, random passersby cast them looks of vague curiosity, but nothing more. What might have been intended to be cool and exhilarating only comes across as lame and uncomfortable. The characters themselves are never intimidating; instead, they are predictably cocky, immature and not all that bright.
And then there’s Sola Aoi’s character, who adds a bizarre element of erotic supernatural horror into the crime film model. The gangsters repeatedly hear a woman singing enchantingly throughout the film, which is nearly always followed by a fresh kill. When the corpses are found, they are covered with a strange, slimy substance – which, oddly, is never commented on by any of the gangsters, who’d rather suspect each other instead of the anonymous girl they’ve brought along. Of course Aoi is behind the odd occurrences, and later she explains that she feeds on men’s greed. Just as obvious (if not more so) is the main purpose of her character in the film, which requires Aoi to reveal generous amounts of flesh and provide steamy sex scenes – though surprisingly, there aren’t quite as many of the latter as one might expect from this kind of product. Luckily, things are kept simple regarding the whole horror/monster aspect. There aren’t any bad CGI effects or anything – just some cheesy sound effects and Aoi in varying states of undress, though I really got tired of seeing her licking her lips and smiling knowingly at her potential victims.
Ultimately, "Siren" is clumsy, crude and predictable, but all by design. While there are some unexpected elements thrown in – including the extended focus on the gangster plotline and unexpected references to "Un Chien Andalou" and "The Shawshank Redemption" – there is no denying that the main purpose of this thing is to deliver cheap thrills, some violence and plenty of skin. As amply demonstrated by the crappy transitions, sound effects and digital video cinematography, "Siren" is simply messy, cheap and not all that satisfying.