Synopsis: 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. (Source)
The Lure is a dark, unforgiving fairy tale for adults. It’s a film of extremes, enchanting yet tragic. Director Agnieszka Smoczynska gives her latest a sinister sense of humor without betraying its sincerity, dissecting femininity with social critique, all while taking a look at how we’re quick to exploit things we don’t understand. Centering around two mermaids, the film is a literal fish-out-of-water story, blending Terry Gilliam-esque visuals, an eye for gore and unexpected emotion through catchy musical numbers. The film’s irreverence definitely won’t sit well with everyone, but those willing to meet it halfway will appreciate its vitality, which especially benefits from the wild-eyed performances of Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska. This is one fever dream we can’t quite escape, even when we want to – it sticks with us and proves Smoczynska a narrative voice to watch.
Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) are two teenage mermaids with their sights set on America. Before swimming across the pond, they’re discovered by a local Warsaw family, who take them in and invite them to be a part of their traveling cabaret, Figs and Dates. The two sisters immediately find themselves the centerpiece of their adoptive family’s band. They love showing off their siren songs, and aren’t afraid to embrace their true nature, dousing themselves with water during shows to reveal their oversized fins. Away from the music, however, Silver and Golden are overwhelmed and excited by their newfound way of life. Inevitably, the sisters find themselves conflicted throughout the flash and glitz. Silver begins to fall in love with Mietek, Figs and Dates’ bassist, while Golden has a hard time controlling her murderous impulses, secretly feasting on unwitting locals. Finding themselves at a crossroads, the sisters’ bond and very being are tested to their limits.
If there’s anything that Smoczynska’s film doesn’t lack, it’s an abundance of ideas. Right from the start, the film is a sensory experience hurtling towards it’s dark inevitability faster than we can process. There’s barely a time the film stops to catch its breath, offering up a barrage of grotesque imagery, gritty locales and bright musical set pieces which repel and contrast each other with perverse glee. Through it all, Smoczynska tackles everything from coming-of-age, to the complexity of feminine struggles amidst a self-absorbed world, all while delivering a clever twist on mermaid mythology. Though the film picks up too many ideas without really going in-depth, what’s here sticks, illustrating a vicious cycle where the story’s two anti-heroines are both admired and adored, but discarded once their uniqueness becomes common place. In the end, the film is a simple, yet effective cautionary tale with a feminist backbone, telling a tale of sexual awakening in a world that’s too callous to care. It’s this dark subtext that keeps Smoczynska’s film afloat and fascinating from frame to frame.
Headlining the entire thing are two playful, yet powerful performances from stars Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska. As Silver, Mazurek is the more lively of the pair. The film’s traditional romance hinges around her, and she makes Silver’s extraordinary circumstance feel relatable and genuine, bringing it down to the story of a girl who just wants to feel like she belongs. As Golden, Olszanska brings the story’s darker themes to life. She is more cautious and guarded, with a performance that is steeped in pain, but also a palpable fear that feels earned. Together, the pair have a chemistry that is wholly natural, working so well together that they feel like two sides of the same coin. It’s because of these two women that the film’s mixture of dark and light can coexist. Jakub Gierszal, as the band’s bass player and Kinga Preis as the family’s matriarch, Wokalistka, add more texture with their roles.
Like the tortured creatures at its center, The Lure is beautiful and mysterious, but with hidden dangers and bite sitting below the surface. Even if you aren’t into musicals, the film is so delightfully bizarre and unhinged that its neon-hued nightmare is alluring from start to finish. Leave it to Smoczynska to strike a balance between grotesque, cringeworthy twists and moments of honesty, delivering jokes about mermaid genitals one moment and a piercing portrait of sisterhood the next. With her characters constantly breaking into song with gleeful abandon and emotional highs, Smoczynska transforms extraordinary circumstances into ideas and struggles which are too real to ignore.