“What if you fall in love? Would you eat him?”
There are certain rules that hold true for all monstrous girls in cinema. Their power must be sacrificed in order to find love. What empowers them is taboo, forbidden, or considered evil. Their base nature is ugly; their conformity is beautiful. The list goes on. Think of Carrie, or Ginger Snaps, or Jennifer’s Body; the power the girls acquire allows them to seize agency, but the cost is always bloody (Carrie is mercilessly taunted, Ginger is mauled, Jennifer is cut to pieces), and that power is temporary — despite the fact that it is usually a metaphor for growth and transition into womanhood, the transformation ultimately claims their lives. Think of The Witch, too — it’s easy to project a certain triumph and liberation onto Thomasin as she rises into the air, but what choice does she have if not to join the witches? She’s lost everything, and by their hands.
By some miracle, The Lure manages, in part, to have its cake and eat it, too. The mermaids at its center, Gold (Michalina Olszańska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek), aren’t so much The Little Mermaid as they are the creatures that nearly drove Odysseus and his crew to their deaths. Their tails are reminiscent of eels, except at the size that give people nightmares when they think too long about the kind of fish that populate the very bottom of the sea, and moreover, they eat people. While there’s a certain aspect of horror to their feeding, it’s never exploited to the extent that the sisters become the villains of the story. Director Agnieszka Smoczyńska ensures that they can’t be. They’re practically the only characters in the film with names, and the plot centers on their emotional connection as they navigate human life rather than a monster-hunt or an otherwise commodifying or pejorative storyline.
The story is told through musical numbers that are delirious in their colors and in the delight that suffuses them. As almost every musical does, The Lure opens with an overture of sorts, a folksy ballad as sung by the object of Silver’s affections. From there, it jumps directly into disco, pop, and punk as the sisters find work in a dance hall. That the movie is told through music seems like a stroke of genius: all songs are almost unavoidably about love, and it’s love that sits at the core of The Lure. When Gold and Silver’s hearts are full of it, the visuals are candy-colored and bright. The colors only begin to change with the threat of broken hearts, not only because of Silver’s predicament but because neither of the mermaids really belongs out of water.
While the plot ultimately doesn’t have quite enough meat on its bones, the core that Smoczyńska has built it on is unquestionably strong, aided by the wonderful performances of Olszańska and Mazurek, who communicate just as well with simple glances as they do with song. As incredible as it is to watch Mazurek alternately light up and then grow dim as she goes through the ups and downs of romantic love, the bond between the sisters is the movie’s centerpiece. For all that they may disagree on how to approach human life, they’re not pit against each other and their cross-purposes aren’t born of jealousy or competition but simply concern for each others’ well-being. Silver’s romance creates practical complications (“Do you want me to be a girl?” she asks, when the boy she loves pauses at the sight of her tail), not to mention the supernatural conditions that are imposed on them, which threaten to tear the sisters apart. But notably, the girls are never making choices that are out of their control, or without knowledge of the consequences.
As such, The Lure is remarkable not just for its zaniness but for its willingness to let girls be girls. It’s not a luxury often afforded to female characters, especially not in horror, and it’s especially notable as the male characters are either food or flakes. A mélange of a love story, a horror movie, a musical, and a fairytale, the film is as much of a riot as the club in which the mermaids perform, and unlike anything else currently playing in theaters.