A young woman with a traumatic past returns to her childhood home and must contend with the ire and superstition of its insular residents. Sound familiar? Most likely it does, not because you have seen Nightsiren, but because it rehashes the tropes and themes of countless other so-called ‘elevated’ horror films.
In this particular offering, the young woman in question is Šarlota (Natália Germáni), who is called back to the village she escaped years before, after the death of her sister, and takes up residence in the decrepit cabin that is her inheritance. Whispers of the evil witch who haunts the forest abound, striking fear into the residents, all except Mira (Eva Mores), a headstrong woman with whom Šarlota strikes up a friendship.
Tereza Nvotová’s direction is assured, and the cinematography striking. Much use is made of still shots of the verdant woods, all feeding into a clear folk horror atmosphere. Unfortunately, the accomplished visuals cannot redeem the lacklustre narrative. There are brief moments of clarity in the film that offer—if not originality—then a semblance of a momentum that could capture the audience. Germáni is compelling when the writing allows her to lean into the emotionality of her character, when her pain erupts into a teary outburst before Mira. But so much of the runtime expects the audience to connect with the stony faces and terse dialogue of the characters, while simultaneously attempting to convince us of the borderline ridiculous escalation of the villager’s hysteria.
Nightsiren is the sort of film that revels in cultivating an enigmatic quality, yet fails to recognise that its mystery hardly requires unravelling in the first place. The plot plays second fiddle to the creation of an atmosphere, teasing us with the negative space of a cliché narrative we have seen far too many times. It is a pity that the actors are not given more to work with, but Nightsiren never quite forms the emotional connection it needs to succeed. When Šarlota unburdens herself to Mira, saying: ‘I feel nothing…I should feel something as a woman’, the audience can only nod in agreement.
Eve Connor [she/her]
[Image credit: dailyentertainmentworld.com]