Siren Movie Review: The protagonist is running out of time in a film that seems to go on forever

Siren Movie Review: The protagonist is running out of time in a film that seems to go on forever

Rating:(1.5 / 5)

I am really starting to miss the linear form of storytelling. You know, those films in which filmmakers trust that the emotional weight of their stories is enough without necessarily having to shuffle all the film’s cards in a way that doesn’t lend itself to any obvious meaning.  With recent films, it feels like we overcomplicate stories in an eagerness to make them narratively compelling—and end up, instead, making a convoluted jigsaw of what ought to be a straightforward series of events. This also means that the film, facing the burden of having to untie all the needless knots, isn’t quite able to focus where it truly must: on the emotional upheavals, on character growth and inner meaning.

Director: Anthony Bhagyaraj

Cast: Jayam Ravi, Keerthy Suresh, Anupama Parameswaran, Yogi Babu

For instance, at the heart of Siren is a protagonist, Thilagan, learning to embrace his wrongful incarceration and biding his time, while winning the trust of everyone around him. However, the film is interested in utilising this angle for its potential to offer a ‘high’ moment. It’s only interested to extract a passing punchline from it. Thilagan, in a voice-over, says, “Nallavana vaazhndha naan, nallavana nadikka aarambichen.” Got it—and it’s a smart line and a smart idea, sure, but would it not help humanise Thilagan, would it not help capture his complexity, if the film really captured his acceptance of his situation and the eventual transformation? Siren, in trying to be all clever with its screenplay, is so keen to have us think that it keeps forgetting to make us feel.

When it does attempt to create emotional engagement, it’s through simplistic and manipulative ways. A flashback murder victim is a woman who can’t speak or hear—and she’s a mother, of course. I kept noticing the objective of many scenes in Siren, but not necessarily seeing them come to fruition. Take, for example, the scene which is meant to establish that Thilagan’s daughter is being humiliated in her classroom for having a father who’s in jail. The daughter being humiliated for the situation of her father is the objective, but in execution, what we actually get is a class full of students yelling, “Foreign jail!” It feels less like an emotional attack on a vulnerable girl and more like an entire classroom descending into embarrassing sloganeering. In an earlier scene, the film aims to establish how important Thilagan’s wife and daughter are to him. That’s the objective, but in execution, what we get is a cop, Velankanni (Yogi Babu), asking Thilagan a leading question like, “Un ponnunaa unakku uyira?” and motivating the latter to respond in syrupy cliches—including calling his wife and daughter “dhevadhai”. Siren has objectives, yes, but how it sets about achieving them betrays a lack of emotional depth, an ill-advised eagerness to achieve quick results.

None of this is Jayam Ravi’s fault though—or Yogi Babu, who’s quite funny for a while in the beginning. I liked that Jayam Ravi is comfortable playing a man with plenty of grey hair. And I enjoyed that his character, Thilagan, isn’t obviously, conventionally heroic. He isn’t walking around delivering punchlines or doling advice. Thilagan’s head is down always, and he’s quiet with a clear sense of purpose—even if it doesn’t necessarily translate to cathartic results. And yet, in the same film, we get a mood-killer in the form of a flashback ‘comedy fight’. I, in fact, laughed out loud when Thilagan seriously speaks of having to band together to save a bleeding man, and the bad man, equally seriously, says, “Blood loss pannadhe naanga dhaan.” Somewhere around that scene, Thilagan also warns that ‘police-oda laththi’ is more dangerous than ‘kettavanoda kaththi’. As a line, it’s great and offers social utility, but wait, is the film even consistent with its own punchline?

Let’s consider the portrayal of Keerthy Suresh’s cop character, Nandini, who’s dealing with accusations of custodial murder. The film largely presents her as a moral, good cop, who’s out to prove her innocence. And yet, it would seem she has learned nothing from her whole ordeal, given that her means of extracting information from a suspect is to suspend him mid-air and torture him. The talented Keerthy isn’t exactly compelling in this part, but keeping that aside, in a film about how our legal and judicial system is broken, it’s still ideologically muddled to present Nandini as she is in the film—and expect us to be riveted by her investigation and warmed by her niceness at the end.

This film about revenge murders presents some unique ways through which the bad people get their deliverance—but it doesn’t really get into the why of it too much. Do the high-frequency sounds used to kill the bad guys have something to do with Thilagan’s wife being unable to hear sound? What about the bad people who sweat blood? Is there any deeper meaning to it? I wasn’t sure. There are other interesting ideas too. The idea of someone who saved lives for a living (ambulance driver) now forced to kill people. The idea of time being a crucial factor in both. The idea that the act of murder takes away something precious from us—like his daughter in the case of Thilagan (which is why that end scene really confused me). There’s also the idea of both Thilagan and Nandini dealing with accusations of murder.

Ultimately, this haphazard film really needed to be a better character study of Thilagan, of his transformation from a good man to one who pretends to be a good man, of his long-harboured lust for revenge, of his sorrow and the system that failed him. Instead, Siren settles for template joys—and doesn’t succeed in delivering them too.

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