This review is being republished. The Lure opens on February 1st.
It’s the ’80s rock musical with sex, mermaids, and murder you’ve been waiting for.
Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Smoczynska made her narrative feature debut with The Lure at Sundance last January, and caused a stir with its brutal re-imagining of The Little Mermaid. The film follows siren sisters Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska), whose silky voices lure lone men into their watery realm, where their sharp teeth make a messy meal out of their prey’s hearts. But when the shrieks of a human songstress (Kinga Preis) pierce the pair’s spell, the sisters and their would-be victims become a band, playing at a burlesque theater, awing its audiences with their fantastical blend of rock and shapeshifting. Then things turn tragic when Silver falls for the handsome young bassist Mietek (Jakub Gierszal, who looks so much like American Horror Story’s Evan Peters it’s alarming).
Silver is left with a terrible choice: her body or her boy. See, while Silver and Golden can take human form, the vulvas they possess as mermaids vanish completely as women, leaving them with crackless asses, and a front like that of a Barbie doll. To get the body bits she needs to seduce Mietek, Silver must sacrifice not only her tail and life in the sea with her sister, but also her voice. Golden—as you can imagine—is furious over the whole matter, and entreats the lovestruck Silver to embrace their true nature, their sisterly bond, and their savage side. While Silver moons over Mietek, Golden acts out by causing carnage. The pair’s feud leads to a finale that is heartbreaking and horrifying in an unexpected way. (Who knew bubbles could seem so terrible?)
In an intriguing interview with Vice, Smoczynska explained, “The mermaid is a metaphor for growing up as a girl, and what’s very important for the young girl is losing your virginity. The pussy is a metaphor in a way…(Silver) wants so much to have genitals, the pussy, to be a woman, a mature woman because she wants to be with a man, you know—she thinks this is the most important value, and she lost herself because she loses her own nature…Her tail, and therefore her mermaid nature, could be her strength but she doesn’t know how to access it. Like every woman (Silver) needs to discover her true nature. It can be painful, but she cannot be ashamed of it. Even if it costs everything.”
To underscore the coming-of-age element of her parable, Smoczynska purposefully cast two twenty-something actresses who look alarmingly young. “I really wanted the audience to feel uncomfortable,” Smoczyńska admitted of the film’s numerous topless scenes. But this daring director didn’t stop at the sisters’ human forms to discombobulate her audience. She also relished in an interpretation of mermaids that is more sinister and feral than most, choosing a design that presents each girl as “a wild predator” complete with tails “”full of mucous, full of slime—half woman and half monster.” By making Silver’s and Golden’s bodies objects of lust and repulsion, she satirizes society’s own love-hate relationship with the female form.
The Lure mixes sultry rock, sprightly pop, pitch-black humor, moody melodrama, frank nudity, and body horror to make a fairy tale that is fresh, fearsome, and fascinating. It delights and repulses in turn, pushing its audience to consider what its fantasy reflects about our reality. There are portions where the storytelling goes soggy, and some bits of plot and dark comedy seem lost in translation. Yet The Lure is easily one of my favorite films of the year for the extraordinary risks it takes, and its sheer strangeness.
One moment it feels like you’ve wandered into a vibrant ’60s musical like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The next, we’ve tripped down a dark alley into a Cronenberg nightmare of blood, flesh and fury. Then we surface into a club, slick with slime, sex, and god knows what else, where two strange sisters spin and shriek in a glam-punk seduction that’d have made David Bowie smile. The journey will leave you dizzy, rattled, and breathless. But if you were gaga for the surreal horror of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, you’ll be head over tail for the The Lure.