Thursday, 16 November 2006

Forbidden Siren サイレン (DVD) (2006)

Meet the Ryukyuan welcoming committee...

There’s something about movie adaptations of video games that filmmakers should realise: it might sound like a great idea, but invariably the end result is a massive disappointment at best, and a huge embarrassment at worse. I mean, hasn’t anyone learnt? Street Fighters, Silent Hill, DOA, Doom, Resident Evil, House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne – our cineplexes are littered with corpses of failed films and tonnes of furious teenagers screaming for their money back. Aside from the first Mortal Kombat movie (which was improved by the presence of Christopher Lambert), the general rule of movie adaptations make for poor movies. Why so? When you’re playing a video game, the game mechanics and in-game fight sequences often overshadow the fact that the plot is emaciated and that the premise is far-fetched and incredibly unbelievable. When you’re watching the movie, it is very hard not to notice that the plot and premise aren’t enough to generate material for the length of the movie, or that in order to fill out the plot, the filmmaker has taken the decision to shift the movie away from the basic premise of the game itself. Either way, you the moviegoer will lose out each time you enter a cinema to watch a movie game adaptation.

Yet Forbidden Siren could turn out to be different. While it’s a horror survival game – and we know just how bad Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead and Resident Evil were – we expect 2 things that it has going for it. Firstly, it’s a Japanese movie, and the Japanese aren’t usually known for making horrible horror films. Secondly, it’s a Japanese homage to HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, complete with a plot to revive a dead (but eternally sleeping) underwater god, a remote village full of secret cultists, and zombie creatures mutated in the image of the dead god. In other words, it would take great talent to make a poor movie out of this video game.

There are some things that I am glad were carried over from the game to the Forbidden Siren movie. There is the whole mystery of the siren that the protagonists have to unravel by finding video game-ish clues such as strange scrawls made with blood on the wall, torn notebooks, newspaper clippings, and interviewing or speaking with non-player characters wandering around the remote village. There’s also the great sound production, which does evoke at times the horror mood of the video game.

Unfortunately for us, there is very little horror or horrific suspense in this movie – while the set design is superb, the actual zombies look so badly done you’d think this has to be a spoof of bad zombie movies, and the chase sequences aren’t particularly frightening. The script is somewhat of a let-down, with the writers ditching much of the Cthulhu mythos and sense of ancient horror that made the video game memorable and harrowing to play. Gone are the secret cult of villagers, their sacrifices to the dead god, and the terrifying mutant creatures. Yes, there are zombies, but they aren’t the real attraction of the video game. Instead, the story is pared down to a standard and cliched tale of a woman and her weak kid brother who arrive on a remote island together with their anthropologist father. Worse still, the ending of the story is a slap in the face of the Forbidden Siren games, as well as a very bad way to end any story – almost as bad as saying “it was all a dream”. This is one of the signs that the director and scriptwriters just wanted to make any old horror movie and didn’t care about the video game they were supposed to be adapting.

While the soundtrack and the set design are well done, and tend to make you sit on edge for a real scare, the poor execution and script actually make you unimpressed when the scares do come. For a horror movie fan, Forbidden Siren would be a disappointment because it has far too few scares, an emaciated plot and a terrible ending. For a fan of the video game, Forbidden Siren would be a disappointment because the scriptwriters have take far too many elements of the game out of the movie, elements that would actually have made it more frightening and richer. As far as I can tell, this would be a good movie for people who are looking for safe horror fare, i.e. people who want to be scared, but don’t really want to be scared at all.

First published at incinemas on 16 November 2006

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