This film is a pretty fun one to explain to your friends: a Polish, horror-comedy musical about Mermaids by a first time, female director. There’s a lot going on in that description and, coincidentally, there is a lot going on in this film. While the modern-day fairy tale explores some very interesting themes and imagery, it has some inconsistencies with tone that remind you that this is the work of a first-time director.
Mermaids Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) come ashore during a bizarre family picnic between Krysia (Kinga Preis), Perkusista (Andrzej Konopka), and Mietek (Jakub Gierszal). After almost luring the men into the water, the family brings the mermaids ashore and to the strip club where they perform as musical entertainment. The owner of the club is excited to have real live, actual mermaids who can perform in the show, and quickly hires them- although their pay goes to the family that has taken them in.
The film is, like most modern stories about mermaids, an exploration of female sexuality, particularly in youth. The film’s obvious parallels to The Little Mermaid closely reflect the Hans Christian Anderson original, but also spend time refuting the Disney animated classic of the same name. The two mermaids are what adds to the conversation- now instead of the “little mermaid” acting in a vacuum, there is a conversation going on between two girls who are in the same situation.
(I hate to use this qualifier but, spoilers ahead.)
On the one hand, we have Silver, who is obviously interested in a conventional, sexual relationship with Mietek. She quickly kisses him, flirts with him, plays the part of the innocent girl who wants to be “taken” by a masculine figure. Time after time she goes out of her way to make herself into what she believes he wants and expects from her. And, if we pay attention to our fairy tales, we can anticipate how well that is going to go for her. Golden, on the other hand, is concerned with two things- herself and her sister. When she is hungry for human flesh, she eats it. She explores her own sexuality and does what she things is fun. She is worried about her sister and always trying to steer her in the right direction. The strength of this character is only highlighted by the incredible performance by Michalina Olszanska, an actress who I will be going out of my way to see more of.
At the end of the film there is a crucial choice that Silver has to make, and one that Golden has repeatedly expressed her feelings on. And when the time comes to make that choice, and Silver chooses Mietek over her sister, Golden is horrified. The film ends with her retreating, alone, to the sea, to see her sister punished for doing exactly what she thought was the right thing. It could not be much clearer that this film is making a commentary on the way women are expected to behave, and how harmful this is to women and girls in a community. In expressing these views, I found the film quite successful.
There are elements in the film that are quite lacking. The character Krysia is a surprising non-entity, when I believe that a stronger presence from her could have brought some glue to the film. The screenplay left a lot to be desired, and there is a strong disparity between the two halves. I will admit to feeling like I was watching tow different movies, and I’m not confident that that is a good or exciting thing. However, I found the music engaging, the performances spectacular, and the consistency of the mermaid lore refreshing. There is not enough use of mermaid symbology in films, and it was wonderful to see someone who took the rules of their world seriously and used the symbols to their full potential.
The Lure is exactly what I wanted and was expecting in that it was bizarre. But it was not the most cohesive film. However, its disparate elements were not enough to cloud my enjoyment of the journey.