The Lure: The Grimy Mermaid Fairy Tale You Never Knew You Wanted
Review by Aaron Haughton
The Lure is a grimy, beautiful, bizarrely erotic mermaid horror musical, and it's the debut film from polish director Agniezka Smoczynka. It's a splendidly dark and bizarre take on The Little Mermaid, leaning a little closer to the novel of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen, than it does the Disney adaptation. Equal parts hypnotic and horrifying, the film is bursting at the seams with vibrant energy, character and musical numbers, all culminating into an oddly fun experience.
The film is set in an alternate 1980s Poland and follows mermaid sisters, Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska), as they emerge from the ocean looking like Neve Campbell and Denise Richards off the poster of Wild Things. They sneak ashore by seducing some musicians with their siren song, which is beautifully haunting and contains lyrics to the affect of: "Help us come ashore, no need to fear, we won’t eat you, my dear." The musicians happen to be the house band for a sex club, and they get the mermaids (who have transformed into their human form) on as backup singers. However, due to their alluring pipes, they quickly become the stars of the show. A budding attraction between Silver and the band's bass player, Mietek (Jakub Gierszal), then takes centerstage, which drives a rift between the sisters and fuels the fairy tale tragedy as it chugs forward.
The script is admittedly weak at times, and the story sometimes veered into some confusing turf, but in the grand scheme, the negatives are overshadowed by the overwhelming positives. Smoczynka's direction is kinetic and full of movement, using practical elements like quick pulls in and out of focus to visually reinforce and showcase the mermaids powers. The world Smoczynka imagines and constructs is matte, yet radiating with sparkle. The Director of Photography, Jakub Kijowski, showcases masterful lighting, making the scenery seem artificial, all while magnifying the aquatic theme with salmon pinks and glaucous greens. If you're not enticed by what's been packed into the frame, you'll likely be lured in by the peculiarity of the story, the toe-tapping and catchy 80s new wave pop score, or the mesmerizing mythos of the mermaids.
The mermaids in The Lure are able to shed their tails upon drying out on land, but once wet, their alarmingly long tails with their spiky fins reappear. However, what's more alarming is that the land version of the aquatic sirens sports barbie doll smooth genitalia, but their true mermaid form includes a little slit, which I'll leave up to you to piece together. In addition to taking on a Terran form, the mermaids in the film seem to have the ability to control the minds of other humans, and even can communicate with one another via a dolphin like echolocation of clicks and whistles. The aspect that gives the film it's horror edge is that the mermaids have an affinity for the taste of human hearts; something that Silver resists, being lured herself by the human lifestyle and want for a relationship, but Golden wholly embraces.
Despite being a fantasy based tale, there is a personal undertone to this coming of age story that bleeds through the sometimes outlandish and opaque narrative. In a lot of ways, the film echoes Smoczynka's own youth. As the filmmaker told Filmmaker Magazine, "My mother ran a night-dance club back in the day and I grew up breathing this atmosphere. That is where I had my first shot of vodka, first cigarette, first sexual disappointment and first important feeling for a boy." In a fear of being too personally exposed, Smoczynka decided to use mermaids as an abstraction to tell her own story without revealing too much about herself.
The incorporation of the mermaids adds a layer of intrigue and depth. In a lot of ways, they can be viewed as immigrants, as they're ultimately taken advantage of and abused by the locals on their way to their true goal (they wish to swim to America). In fact, in an early scene, which is very subtle, it can be assumed that the night club owner even sexually abuses the mermaid girls. After discovering the vaginal slit in their tails and being left alone to keep an eye on them while the band performs, we cut back to find them in their human form passed out in a state of shock, the night club owner noticeably wearing slightly less clothing than when we saw him last. The girls' mermaid form also reinforces the coming of age aspect; the mermaids themselves are symbolic of innocence, yet their odor and slime are symbolic of girls maturing.
The second act drags a bit, but it all builds to one of the better endings I've seen all year. The narrative is at times not fully explained or clear, but I think it leaves room for allegorical interpretations as I've mentioned above. I've bashed the script a lot, but it's not complete trash, it's just the weakest part of an overall strong and well crafted film. There are things the script does well, like using the symbol of blood with regard to the relationship between Mietek and Silver. At first, it's a source of intrigue and romance, but becomes reversed in the final act into a symbol of horror and disgust.
For a long time, it seemed that the fairy tale was forever sanitized and digestible for the whole family, but it's both refreshing and delightful to see a film embrace this gloomy side of the fairy tale realm and really run with it, as opposed to pandering to the bubbly "happily ever after" that Disney falsely filled our soft and malleable craniums with during our youth. The grime and stink of fish in Smoczynka's mermaid tale is so potent that it oozes from the screen and won't wash off easily. There's a lot to sink your teeth into, and a whole lot of unorthodox enjoyment to be had.
Rating: 4 siren songs outta 5.
What do you think? Were you able to wash the fish smell off after viewing the film? If you haven't seen it, are you LURED in by our review? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!