In Warsaw, a pair of mermaid sisters are adopted into a cabaret. While one seeks love with humans the other hungers to dine on the human population of the city.
December 25, 2015 (Poland)
Marta Mazurek as Srebrna
Michalina Olszanska as Zlota
Kinga Preis as Wokalistka Krysia
This is a musical. Let me repeat that. The Lure, known in its native Poland as Córki dancingu or “daughter of the dance”, is a bloody horror film about killer mermaids, and it also has songs and dance numbers. Eat your heart out, La La Land. Not that the comparison is fair. There really is nothing like The Lure.
Silver and Golden, two young, nubile mermaids with nothing better to do, hypnotize a group of musicians on a Warsaw beach one night. Right away, this opening scene is like a line in the sand. Writer Robert Bolesto and director Agnieszka Smoczynska are forcing us to accept the utter fantasia of the fable. Either we let ourselves be bewitched by these mermaids, just like the on-screen characters, or as Charles Dickens put it: “nothing wonderful can come of the story.”
Luckily, actresses Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska, the respective Silver and Golden, make this easy. They are a dichotomy, a variation on the virgin/whore dynamic. Only in this case, Silver wants a romantic relationship with a human, (in particular, a guitar player named Mietek, played by Jakub Gierszal), and Golden wants to eat them all. Indeed, this really isn’t Disney’s The Little Mermaid. But in many ways, it comes closer to the original tragic spirit of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. So how do singing and dancing fit into all this?
That bold, stylistic choice is rooted in traditional mermaid lore. Modern scholars believe the European mermaid was adapted from the Ancient Greek myth of the siren, women who lure sailors to a watery death with an enchanting song. Likewise, Golden and Silver enchant the middle class of Warsaw, using the musicians and a nightclub as a front. First, they feed off of adoration, their songs heightening primal instincts, in particular sexuality. And then they feed.
Golden and Silver do have the power to turn their tails into human legs, though they aren’t anatomically correct. They return to their fish state whenever they touch any form of water. “No offense,” Mietek tells Silver when she tries to seduce him, her slippery mermaid tail caressing his hips. “To me you’ll always be an animal.” So Silver uses her magical siren song to force Mietek to fall in love with her, but she knows it’s a dirty cheat. That is the central theme of The Lure. Can you really transcend your basic nature, human or otherwise? If we’re all just animals, inevitably we’ll eat each other.
The song lyrics conjure creepy images, such as “the wind feels freezing on my kidneys” and “he has no buts regarding sluts”. The music is ABBA meets t.A.T.u., with a little latter-day Pussy Riot thrown in for good measure. If Euro House really isn’t your thing, there’s still the gorgeous cinematography of Jakub Kijowski. This is the same man who did Floating Skyscrapers (2013). He knows how to move a camera, how to pull the ethereal out of the handful of sets. His use of color, in particular aquamarine and red, makes for a sumptuous visual experience.
The Lure also does something clever with its sound design. Marine animal calls, (dolphins, whales, etc.), are used as jump scare sound cues. It’s a nifty detail. It takes an old, potentially tired trope and makes it new again. In addition, the mermaid fish effects are seamless, fully articulated, and with minimal, photorealistic CGI.
The movie does get a bit episodic, (the sad fate of most musicals), and there is not enough empathy to be found in the final third. The story meanders, unfocused. Allusions to recovering addicts, as the musicians try to break the mermaid’s spell over them, is not as clever as it thinks it is.
Eventually a lightning rod figure does emerge, in the form of the merman Triton. In this version, Triton is a leathery Ozzy Osbourne type, biting the heads off doves, sporting a voice that sounds exactly like The Necromancer from that Rush song. He is intriguing, but sadly there is just not enough movie left to adequately explore his backstory.
I would recommend The Lure. It’s got hutzpah, brashness, plus plenty of blood and “nasty monster moments” to legitimately earn the horror moniker. One twisted sex scene in particular feels like something out of a Frank Henenlotter movie. It’ll warm your Horror Freak heart. In no uncertain terms, I side with my colleague Michael Klug in his assessment of the film, (horrorfreaknews.com/lure-2016-review). The Lure is finally getting a New York City release through Janus Films on February 1, 2017. IFC Center will be handling the national expansion shortly after.