If you have a penchant for Polish cannibal mermaid musicals, then The Lure is the movie for you. Combining elements of horror, romance and fantasy, first-time feature director Agnieszka Smoczyńska has created something quite unique that works remarkably well as a contemporary fairy tale. Although far removed from Disney’s The Little Mermaid (although who knows what the shelved Sofia Coppola version might nave produced), this comes closer to the tragic spirit of Hans Christian Anderson’s original work, except for the singing and dancing perhaps. Using song to lure men into the ocean so they can eat them, mermaid sisters Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszańska) have their latest targets in sight when their serenade is interrupted by cabaret singer Wokalistka (Kinga Preis), who recruits the two girls to perform in her show.
Possessing human form – sans genitals – when out of the water, the girls are soon the darlings of the cabaret scene, wowing the audience when the act incorporates them transforming back to mermaids in a glass tank. While Silver finds herself falling in love, Golden is guided by her darker urges and tensions mount between the two, all of which plays out in song. There is a distinct dichotomy between Golden’s quest for blood and the delightfully kitsch musical numbers that seem drawn straight from the Eurovision songbook, which is not a criticism in any way. As Silver’s relationship with bass player Mietek (Jakub Gierszal) blossoms, she undergoes a physical transformation in the pursuit of love that will ultimately have disastrous consequences.
This is a uniquely Eastern European film and, whilst there is no specific time period identified in which the events take place, the cars, clothing and club décor very much suggest the early 1980’s. Almost all of the action takes place within a garish cabaret restaurant and was filmed, apparently, in an abandoned Warsaw nightclub at which the parents of songwriters Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska – who co-wrote the music that plays such a big part in the film – were performers. This is a world where the idea of mermaids as cabaret performers is seemingly accepted without question. The work of production designer Joanna Macha and costume designer Katarzyna Lewinska have combined to create a wonderfully lurid world in which everything shines and sparkles, bathed in a delectably garish hue by cinematographer Jakub Kijowski. The CG rendering of the mermaid tails is terrific and the choreography is exuberant, with several scenes – including an early sequence, in a department store – that dazzle every bit as much as the dancing in La La Land.
The performances from Mazurek and Olszańska go a long way to making this whacky concept work so well and the supporting players are certainly enthusiastic in embracing the lunacy of it all. As the brooding Golden, Olszańska is particularly enthralling and it is very easy to become drawn into her mesmerising allure, despite her predilection to chow down on human flesh. Silver is much more idealistic and hopeful of a new life on dry land, but is ultimately her own worst enemy when she agrees to an elaborate procedure that makes for one of the most bizarre and amusing scenes in the film. There is no disguising the filmmakers’ enthusiasm for the characters and Smoczyńska has created something that defies the sheer lunacy of the plot – Triton appears as the lead singer of a metal band among many other absurdities – to emerge as an entertaining, original and consistently oddball vision. A wonderfully demented musical, The Lure might just be the greatest cannibal mermaid movie ever made.