The surface of the lake is placid, the clear water inviting; what lies beneath is another story, one with its roots in the Slavic folklore of the Rusalka, a spirit tied to the body of water where it drowned which will now claim all who swim in the same water, a story which is reflected in the myths of the siren which calls sailors to their doom and the mermaids of the wide ocean.
On the surface Al appears to be doing fine; he’s grown his hair and beard out, he’s relaxed in his home at the edge of the forest by the lake, engaged in the activities of the woodsman, he talks of his husband in the present tense, the memory of Michael held so tightly it is as though he is still a presence in his life, but underneath the surface he is consumed with grief and an undercurrent of undiminished anger.
In white shirt and black jeans and with his tidy beard, Tom is an uncomplicated man spending his summer in a cabin on the lakefront. It is his first time away from the strongly religious community where he grew up but he is determined and self-sufficient despite his distance from the shelter of home and the childhood accident which left its mark on his life but didn’t diminish his sense of humour; as his wristband says, “I’m mute – not deaf.”
Despite his difficulty in communicating, Tom makes friends in that new world beyond that which he has known, the confident, masculine presence of Al next door, and the woman who appears in the water at night, the first evidence of her existence wet footprints on the decking, a presence fleeting and mysterious who finally and hesitantly introduces herself as Mina.
The Siren a tale of love, longing, regret and revenge among the trees, writer/director Perry Blackshear, who also cameos in flashback as Michael, was on hand to introduce his tragic fairy tale which opened the Saturday morning of the FrightFest strand on the final weekend of the Glasgow Film Festival, telling the audience that it was “a very personal film for all involved.”
Reuniting with the stars of his 2015 feature They Look Like People, also screened at FrightFest, Evan Dumouchel as Tom, MacLeod Andrews as Al and Margaret Ying Drake as Nina, it is the shifting tides of their performances around which the film is built, Dumouchel striving for a connection beyond language, Andrews a prisoner of a grief too painful to utter who distracts himself with futile Herculean labours, while the ethereal Drake remains just out of focus, just beyond reach.
Nina driven by a black-eyed compulsion and the hope that Tom may be the man to break the curse, the call of the Rusalka lures the audience into the film through the haunting, ethereal vocal soundtrack, the fractured sunlight falling through the rippling leaves and sparkling on the surface of the water which might just wash away fear, grief and sin.
A tangled net of friendship and kinship, loneliness and longing, desire and desperation and enough mourning to fill a lake, The Siren is by its nature slow paced and subject to the limitations of the budget – at one point a hand is conspicuously in frame stabilising Tom’s rowboat – but its warm waters will tempt those who prefer their horror cinema to have substance.
Known as The Rusalka on the festival circuit, The Siren is now available on DVD on FrightFest Presents