By Simon Whitlock
Fish-people are creepy. H.P. Lovecraft knew it, that one guy in “The Cabin in the Woods” knew it, and even “The Mighty Boosh”’s Old Gregg character would deter any right-thinking individual from renting a boat for some lonely night-fishing on a lake. It beggars belief, therefore, that the mere-community has been so underrepresented in cinema (barring a few B-movie schlock-fests, of course).
Thank Poseidon then, for Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s “The Lure”: a Polish horror-musical about Golden (Michalina Olszańska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek), two mermaids who make for dry land and earn a living as singers in a nightclub, while finding themselves getting in too deep with the humans they would otherwise be pulling down to the briny depths for dinner.
Suffice it to say that “The Lure” isn’t bothered about half measures, and Smoczyńska, for whom this was her feature debut, takes the screenplay from writer Robert Bolesto and absolutely runs with it. The film has this trippy, neon inflected 1980s aesthetic which proves as enticing as a siren’s call, and before long the sensory overload of audacious visuals, toe-tappingly catchy songs and an admirably high level blood and gore – sometimes in tandem with aforementioned catchy songs – which more than adequately checks the boxes for both horror and musical.
“What “The Lure” manages to get so right is that balance between the frothiness of the musical but not compromising on the unsettling horror.”
Bolesto’s script does the usual thing that films involving fantasy creatures in a modern context (“Border”, “Troll Hunter”) tend to include: play with the established mythology. “The Lure” does this by taking its references from the main literary authority on mermaids: Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”. As a result, there are plot points involving mermaids sacrificing their voice to gain legs, the risk of turning into sea foam at dawn if a human lover marries someone else, and other fantastical yet horrifying elements.
It does feel pretty apt for a film about mermaids to involve music directly, given that singing is historically a big part of the mermaid myth, and Smoczyńska has a lot of fun making Golden and Silver into stars of the leery nightclub scene. The film starts with the two mermaids lulling members of a band playing on a beach into the water, and before long they’re enchanting whole crowds to come and see them sing (and other, less savoury stuff) at their nightclub residency. The film has a lot of fun at the expense of the male gaze, a suggestion that some men will throw money at anything which looks vaguely like it’d offer some form of pleasure, even if there’s a risk of getting one’s throat and/or heart eaten. Yes, it’s broad, but it’s certainly effective.
“Smoczyńska’s directorial debut is a triumph of horror cinema, and if nothing else, “The Lure” can proudly call itself the best mermaid horror-musical movie.”
What “The Lure” manages to get so right is that balance between the frothiness of the musical but not compromising on the unsettling horror. There’s never any doubt that Golden and Silver are not of the human race: obviously the fish tails are a subtle allusion to that fact, and the details of the practical prop tails are brilliantly unsettling. They’re slimy, spiny, scaly things which different human characters are utterly fascinated by, though those who get close enough to really become familiar with the fishy appendage don’t seem to last too long afterward – that would be down to the big pointy fangs, which are demonstrably useful for sinking into necks.
When not preying on unassuming humans, it’s the moments of apparent silence which confirm the sirens’ creepiness: they engage in a seemingly telepathic communication at times, and their language – a combination of dolphin clicks and whale song – is so alien that it genuinely inspires fear.
Smoczyńska’s directorial debut is a triumph of horror cinema, and if nothing else, “The Lure” can proudly call itself the best mermaid horror-musical movie. Mermaids might be charming for some people, but when it comes to Golden and Silver, nobody would be blamed for not wanting to be part of that world.