This afternoon, I went to IFC to catch a screening of The Lure, a dark, modern-day Polish fairytale. I first read about this one a few months back, and it piqued my interest, but I was on the fence about whether or not I’d actually see it. The concept of a pair of mermaids infiltrating the seedy subculture of nightclubs and adult entertainment is certainly attention grabbing, but can it sustain an entire feature-length film?
Now that I’ve seen the movie… I still don’t know the answer. I’m not even sure there are words to describe what I witnessed in the theater. Unsurprisingly, considering the subject matter, it lifts many of its plot points directly from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid–mostly the depressing bits that Disney and Miyazaki omitted from their gentler, kid-friendly adaptations. What caught me off guard was the fact that, amidst all the sex, violence, and cynicism, The Lure is, predominately, a musical: in addition to the numerous diegetic cabaret-style stage routines, the characters occasionally break into cheery, show-stopping song-and-dance numbers that wouldn’t feel out of place in La La Land. The resulting tonal clash reminds me a bit of Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris (in which a family of hapless innkeepers covers up a series of hilariously unfortunate deaths in order to protect their floundering business), though director Agnieszka Smoczynska utilizes the contradiction not for comedic effect, but rather to emphasize the inherent and all-too-familiar ugliness lying beneath the surface of the setting’s magical realism.
As interesting as all that sounds, the prevailing sense of pessimism ultimately makes viewing The Lure feel more like a chore than a pleasure–it’s hard to remain invested in a story when the storyteller makes it glaringly obvious that every single glimmer of hope will inevitably be snatched away. The trio of musicians that befriend our protagonists? They’re just using them to bolster their own popularity, and attempt to discard them once their presence becomes inconvenient. The mermaids themselves? Unrepentant flesh-eating monsters. Even the more innocent, naive of the two essentially hypnotizes the male lead into falling in love with her, making it difficult to sympathize when her choices eventually drive him away. And even when one character achieves some measure of redemption, the impulsive actions of another render the moment inconsequential. In short: The Lure is a fascinating curiosity, like an exhibit at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, but I doubt I’ll revisit it.
[Originally written February 4, 2017.]