It wasn’t until midway through The Lure that I realized I’d been watching an adaptation of The Little Mermaid. Yes, I know it should’ve been obvious given that Hans Christian Andersen’s twisted fairy tale is pretty much THE source material for any mermaid media (mermedia?) at least in some respect, but this film is doing so much of its own thing that a spell was cast over me – a siren song, if you will – and I was drawn into its inescapable clutches.
Part horror film, part fairy tale, and part musical comedy, Agnieszka Smoczynka’s colorful riff on mermaid mythology is unlike anything you’ve ever seen — anything you knew you could see. Despite some very slight pacing issues inherent in the work of just about any filmmaker’s feature-length debut, The Lure is weird in such an earnestly pure way that it’s functionally hypnotic without ever being sleepy. Maybe it’s the music — a mash up of synth-pop, disco, and good old-fashioned show tunes — or maybe it’s the depiction of a magically realist world where mermaids are, if not commonplace, at least regarded as only a mere novelty.
Silver and Golden are mermaid sisters who occasionally peek their humanoid heads above water to sing an enchanting tune. One day they see a band practicing on the shores of their home and an unlikely partnership forms. The mermaids take to the land and join the band in their nightclub act. Silver and Golden grow popular due to their beautiful voices, their naked bosoms, and their enchanting live transformations (Rules: dry mermaids have legs, wet mermaids have a tail). But there’s a catch. In order to keep their lovely voices they must consume human blood, which causes some friction when Silver falls in love with the band’s guitarist. Even more friction is caused from the fact that only when in mermaid form do the girls possess genitalia — when legged, they are physically reminiscent of a Barbie doll.
Silver takes pains to pursue her new romance while Golden wishes her sister would just go back to being a singing, blood-drinking mermaid. Add to that the pressures of show biz, and you’ve got yourself a movie to watch.
Sometimes it’s gross, but it’s not a gross-out picture, with the weird slimy body-horror elements functioning less to activate your gag reflex and more to resonate thematically with the idea of puberty. We all went through it and the mixture of hormones and physical change are a scary experience — one which could only be aided by a wisdom that no adolescent (or mermaid) could possibly possess.
It’s also a musical, but only sometimes. Some of the songs take place in a performance capacity, while others are in the more form of a classic musical. There is a scene, for example, in which the denizens of a grocery spontaneously break out into a song and dance number highly reminiscent of La La Land‘s “Another Day of Sun.” For the record, The Lure beat La La Land to the punch by a year and change. The nightclub numbers are equally engaging, serving to take the audience straight to 1980s Poland, making tangible a time and place unfamiliar to most Americans, myself included.
Luckily for we Philadelphians, the PhilaMOCA crowd is most certainly the right one for The Lure, and even when it swims to the darkest depths of black humor it is assured you’ll be surrounded by folks who get it. And you’ll all be part of an elite club of people who can go to bed with the image of a fish vagina in their heads, so there’s that.
Wait. Before I go. Let’s talk about that. Fish vaginas. I’ve admittedly given a fair amount of thought to fish vaginas, and I think it’s interesting how they are woven into the thematics of The Lure. I will start by saying am very much phobic of sea creatures. Every last one of them. And for as long as I can remember mermaids have been portrayed in a highly sexualized way, and it never made sense to me (see: fish vagina). The human characters in the movie, faced with the potential sexualization of a mermaid, fight this same duality. Seeing Silver and Golden perform is, without a doubt, sexy as hell, but this humanoid, legged version of them is false. They are in performance mode. They are costumed, if you will. The audience covets them while they perform, but they are coveting a stylized lie, designed specifically to titillate. But when faced with the reality of these young creatures (see: fish vaginas), those who covet them much prefer the fantasy. The Lure explores this cultural notion and how desire affects both the desired and the desirer; How it affects self-image, identity, and behavior. And how the only thing that can always be counted on to muck up a perfectly good fantasy is reality. I wonder if all mermedia — if the very concept of a mermaid — has been wrapped around this theme.
The Lure is having its Philly premiere this Thursday, April 20, as part of the Cinedelphia Film Festival. Event details and ticket purchase here.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.