Mermaid horror-musical THE LURE is something else. Mostly because it’s a mermaid horror-musical, and I, like many others I’m sure, never thought I’d ever watch, let alone want or need, such a thing. It’s also apparently the first proper musical to come out of Poland, a fact which for some reason surprised me.
There are rules to being a mermaid, and rules to being a human, and the two states of being are rarely harmonious. When mermaid sisters Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Gold ((Michalina Olszanska) come ashore, they become novelty singers at a club, but soon realise they each want something very different from the human world.
I was pretty much sold on the opening of the mermaids’ first song: “Help us come ashore / there is nothing to fear / we won’t eat you my dear”. The dark, bestial and dangerous mermaids of European myths and folklore are always more interesting than those wearing shells and chilling on rocks. As a musical The Lure doesn’t fit neatly into either “spontaneously breaking into song” (SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN) or “performance confined to stage” (CABARET) variety, but does a bit of both, with the numbers being enjoyed by the punters in the club and allowing characters to express their inner turmoil when on their own with their thoughts.
There are some gloriously camp musical numbers, mostly set to electro pop floor-fillers. The club Silver and Gold sing and dance at is grotty, its patrons and management grottier still, but none of them seem to have qualms about throwing themselves around the dance floor when the mood arises. This is a very different reality to our own, one where mermaids walking on land isn’t all that strange compared to the other sights at the cabaret. In fact that is the thing that brings you out of this film’s weird, wonderful and more than a bit grotesque world the most: nobody seems to think the existence of mermaids and other folkloric creatures is out of the ordinary, in fact it barely provokes a shrug.
This film does for mermaids what LET THE RIGHT ONE IN did for vampires, but with a bit of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS thrown in for good measure. More Beyond the Valley of the Dolls should be thrown in for good measure in movies: the world would be a much livelier, stranger-in-tone place.
It’s a symbolic (well, more iconoclastic) coming-of-age story that morphs into a pretty painfully rendered trans narrative by the end, at least that’s how I read it. Whereas Gold’s drives are simple – protecting her sister and eating any human that poses a threat – Silver’s main drive throughout the second half of the film is essentially to become a “real” woman with functioning sex organs, so she goes for surgery. This results in easily the most disturbing musical number I’ve ever seen, with Silver singing about her innermost desires from an iced slab as surgeons remove both her tail and the human bottom half of the “donor”. It’s a pretty bold and unusual take on Hans Christian Andersen, and a sequence that will make or break the film for many, if the air hostess striptease, boogying leches in bad suits and punching mermaids in the nose didn’t do that for you already.
We’re looking at some weird and wonderful times ahead if filmmakers like THE LOVE WITCH‘s Anna Biller and The Lure’s Agnieszka Smoczynska carry on getting to make exactly the kinds of films they want to. They won’t be for everyone, but they certainly stand out from the crowd and stay with you for the bad and the good. SSP