What if Ariel joined an 80s pop band and Ursula said, “You want to have a pussy, huh”? If you’d never considered those possibilities before, you no longer have to consider them as possibilities at all. Combined with bizarrely enchanting musical numbers, torso-swapping body horror, teenage mermaids murdering men, and a gnarled King Triton that sings in a metal band, and you’ve got Agnieszka Smoczynska’s 2015 Polish-language film The Lure; an unholy concoction of horror and musical that makes for a grislier and, therefore, perhaps, more accurate retelling of the classic Hans Christian Anderson story than the beloved Disney animation. In The Lure, Ariel doesn’t want legs to fall in love; Ariel wants legs so she can fuck, and the darkness that permeates throughout the film, both in subject matter and cinematography, is juxtaposed brilliantly by endearingly cheerful tunes crooned while characters are being sawn in half or preparing to rip out a throat. The Lure is intriguing in its own brazenness; in creating a film that is both horrifying in its visuals as it is catchy in its musical numbers, and it’s the absurdity of this bold brew that keeps the film marginally afloat, even what a lot of the other stuff doesn’t.
In the The Lure, sister mermaids Golden and Silver (incredibly endearing Polish actresses Michalina Olszanska and Marta Mazurek, respectively) decide one day that they’d like to come up ashore to join a rock band – and, well they do just that, in an opening scene that is both confusing as it is charming. That’s kind how the rest of the film is; scenes and sequences that are fun to watch but don’t make a whole lot of sense. Golden and Silver become acquainted with the band Figs n’ Dates, working as backing vocals for the lead singer at the night club the trio regularly performs at. At some point not far into the film, you understand that mermaids are actually a commonly known thing and not a well-kept secret of the sea. The club owner, when presented with the two mermaids, is not awe-struck by their presence, but pleasantly accepting of their crack-less backsides, the Ken doll-esque spaces where their cooters would be, and the slimy, elongated tails that emerge from their lower halves and replace their fake, land-accessible legs when simply splashed with some water. After one early performance with the band, the girls show up at the end of their song in a giant fish bowl, winsomely lounging about in their natural, fishy bodies to the rousing applause of an audience.
But it is not long before the girls are marred by the woes of life above water. Silver falls in forbidden love with the Figs n’ Dates bassist who will not see her as anything more than an animal, and Golden cannot resist an unquenchable thirst for flesh. While Silver, poor unfortunate soul, is debating the loss of her voice as payment for a pair of legs (and, in turn, a vagina), Golden is running around ripping out throats and munching on hearts, trying to maintain her animalistic nature while grappling with the fact that her sister wants to abandon it. She encounters a grizzled Triton, stripped of his horns and bereft of his natural fishiness in exchange for legs, who warns her that if the man Silver has fallen in love with ends up marrying another, Silver will turn to seafoam by daybreak unless she eats him. In the meantime, the band becomes wise to the vicious true nature of their backup act, and must find a way to deal with it.
While it’s interesting the way in which the film presents themes of what it means to be a woman as opposed to what it means to be human, which deserve a deep dive of their own (Silver is not a woman to the bass player unless she can find a way to be a woman biologically), the characters in the film are played entirely straight, and it clashes weirdly with the absurd nature of the film. Scenes that could be excused for not making sense, both sequentially or internally, instead linger on in obscurity because of how the characters behave in them and how the scene is presented. There are scenes in which it appears one thing is happening, and it is not until halfway through that you realize it’s something else – or, sometimes, it’s never given contextual clarity at all. And as entertaining as it is to watch the upper half of a body break out into song as its lower half is removed in a bloody mess, the faulty assembly between sequences becomes distracting, as you’re trying to enjoy teenage girls baring nightmare-inducing rows of Dracula fangs, but can’t understand the context of the scene you just watched. There’s nothing wrong with swapping real characters for vehicles in which to deliver songs and memorable visuals, but it becomes muddled when the tone of a film does not match the absurdity of its own situations.
Still, the film is visually stirring as its music is curiously catchy; pop songs and musical numbers are belted out against the backdrop of a dreary, alternate universe version of 1980s Poland, and further held aloft by lead performances from Michalina Olszanska and Marta Mazurek, who each maintain a ghostly allure that’s the stuff of both dreams and nightmares. It all comes together to form a work of art that is jagged if not hypnotic, and at a time when theaters are intermittently hit with a juggernaut of unwarranted, live-action interpretations of classic animated archives, it’s refreshing to have one that could actually call itself a reimagining, even if the fish vaginas and stapled mid-sections would keep Walt Disney a whole restraining order away from it.
By Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She is passionate about film and writing about film and also talking about film but can’t really decide which she wants to do with her life, but it’s not a big deal (that’s future Brianna’s problem). She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. She met Greg Sestero once and it was weird. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs