Disney's The Little Mermaid this is not, which you can probably surmise from the first glance at the fleshy, almost slug-like tails that drag behind the two sirens. The sisters, Golden and Silver, captivate with their voices, but are just as soon to rip out larynxes and feast on hearts which fuel their crystalline voices.
A feature film debut from Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska, The Lure is actually the first musical to really come out of Poland and its poor reception in its home country may have been due to its distributor's efforts to market it as Poland's Chicago while eschewing its horror mermaid narrative. Although Smoczynska describes the mermaid aspect as merely a mask over personal experiences, the film is fearless otherwise and doesn't shy away from the grisly either. Being the first of its kind also allowed Smoczynska to create her own aesthetic, delving us into a world that seems more like a conglomeration of glitzy music videos a la Bjork rather than a typical comprehensive musical.
This turns out to be its downfall as well as its triumph. DP Jakub Kijowski achieves the brutal fairy tale world using an Arri Alexa XT and a Zeiss Super Lens (interestingly the exact same tools used in Villenueve's Arrival earlier this year). Using old instruments and soft gels, Kijowski achieves the look of the softer street lamps and low lighting of 1980s photographs. Each musical number is like a different collaboration, with a play on the saturated colors and genres -- even a slow-mo number akin to Fiona Apple's "Criminal". More than anything, The Lure is inventive and has fun above all, but its disregard for chronology even as it tries to tout a connecting theme becomes wearing and the movie feels far longer than its runtime. Some scenes appear contrived merely for shock value, and important plot points are glossed over as easily as if in a Glee storyline.
Far more compelling are Smoczynska's glimmerings of duality and coming of age. There's beast versus human, naivety versus brutality, the childlike innocence set in a decidedly adult world, and the personalities of the two sisters set against each other. There's even the carefully choreographed bright colors of the dance numbers set against the animalistic lunges and slitherings of these two mythological animals. Marta Mazurek and Michalina Oszanska are so comfortable with each other in their roles of sister sirens and as young women on the cusp of adulthood, it makes their seduction of humans that much more believable.
The Lure is as much an homage to fairy tales of old as it is to Smoczynska's childhood growing up witnessing the dancing restaurants of communist Poland. Smoczynska gets points in spades for originality and should definitely be one to look forward to in the future. However, although The Lure is glitzy and uniquely fabulous, it doesn't entirely earn its quirkiness and flounders in a weak narrative. It does, however, raise an engaging conversation about female sexuality and identity. Given her actions at the end, does our mermaid ultimately lose her identity or maintain it? What does a selfless love truly mean? And what are the events in our own life that shape our identities? That Smoczynska is able to frame such questions in a color-bombed decadent way might make the Cronenberg/Lynchian irreverencies of The Lure worth the effort.