Sea Foam, Guts, and Singing?
We live in a world that is no stranger to trigger warnings, but suffice to say that those who are looking for a romantic mermaid film ought to look elsewhere, especially if they have weak stomachs. Both eclectic and full of entrails, The Lure is a coming of age tale like no other. Golden and Silver, the protagonists, are both infinitely relatable as teenage sisters with a unique telepathic bond, and strangely alien as literal mermaids with tails not glittering, but spiked, dark, and as we know thanks to everyone’s complaints, reeking of fish.
Perhaps most impressively and confusingly, The Lure, as a result of being both about sirens and set in a nightclub, is a musical. A musical rife with gore, the film seeks to tell the story of two sisters who attempt to adjust to the world of humans with markedly different rates of success. Silver is the Ariel character, romantically obsessed with the youngest member of a family band that plays regularly at the club. The way she tries to change herself to meet his expectations- most starkly explained when he tells her straight out that to him, she is “a fish. An animal.”- is heartbreaking and fantastically bloody, culminating in a horrifying surgical song where she switches bottom halves with a girl who wishes to be a mermaid. Of course, he does not react as she’d hoped, nauseated and even terrified by her new legs, weak and haphazardly sewn to her torso.
Golden is the elder, darker, and more sensible of the two- even if she does eat people a lot more often. As Silver further entangles herself into the lives of those at the nightclub, Golden remains aloof and suspicious of everything going on. When she sings alone from her sister, she sings of seduction and devouring- which she does whenever she can, most notably to a woman cop with whom she first has sex. The way the sisters communicate silently- in a mix of telepathically transmitted oceanic sounds- begins as ways to reassure each other of their presence as co-conspirators and visitors in the human world, but devolves into argument and long periods of silence, even after Silver goes silent herself with the loss of her tail.
Unfortunately, just as most teenage dramas, The Lure does not end in happy romance but chaos and distress. There is no musical number to cap the film, just a still-beating heart clutched in Golden’s hands as she dives into the water, blood ringing her mouth. This movie ends with imagery as stark yet beautiful as the duration promises, ultimately returning us to the beauty of the ocean they abandoned. Although mostly in Polish, some songs are in English, and the effect is jarring- often linking our native tongue with overt seduction while the Polish remains more subtle. However, this movie is anything but subtle. It paints in bold strokes the tale of a sisterly bond gone sour, the pains of growing up, and the analogy between the girls as fish and the girls as women sets them up for double the exploitation.
A must-watch for any young woman with a taste for the occult, The Lure will not disappoint those who come for murder and mayhem- and it will give you a little heart even as the sisters tear through some of their own.
Agnieszka Smoczynska’s film opens on Feb. 1 at New York’s IFC Center!