The Lure played Sundance last year, and seems to have completely escaped my radar, along with many other people’s attention. Luckily Criterion decided to pick it up and give it a lavish special edition, so it will now get a wider audience than it otherwise would have. It’s probably the first and only coming-of-age horror film about bloodthirsty bisexual mermaids, which just happens to be a musical as well. I’m just happy it even exists! The film’s original Polish title is the far more fun: The Daughters of Dance Party!
This film is set in the ’80s, and is about these mermaid sisters who follow a rock band back to a nightclub, where they start working as strippers. They soon become one of the main draws at the club after performing back-up vocals with the band alongside their strip routines. However, things take a difficult turn when one of them kills a patron of the bar and another falls in love with the band’s bassist, who rejects her because he can only see her as a fish.
It’s a debut feature from Agnieszka Smoczyńska, who has made some short films (some are included on the disc), and it’s a bold, audacious start. It’s partly inspired by her own youth in Poland in the early ’90s, but the setting was switched to the ’80s because her co-screenwriter Robert Bolesto wanted to do a film about two friends going to nightclubs in the ’80s—they decided to merge their ideas. She also wanted to grab elements from Hans Christian Andersons’ The Little Mermaid for good measure.
The film is a constant stunner for its entire 90-minute running time, even ithough it may run out of steam a bit during its last act. However, it’s a film from a new and unique filmmaker who has a fresh take on the horror film, and mermaids, so my minor issues kind of get written off. Smoczyńska is the latest in a line of women and people of colour who have been breathing new life into the horror genre, from Get Out to Prevenge.
The performances from the two girls, Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszańska, are magnetic, and hopefully they will be in more films. The special effects are terrific despite the budget constraints. The transitions between the human legs and mermaid tails are for the most part effective, despite some slight ropey CGI aside. The songs and musical numbers are great, and are underscored by a well-done ’80s-style synth score.
Overall The Lure is one of the most startling debuts in the last few years, and Smoczyńska is one of the most original voices in genre filmmaking. She is currently working on Deranged, a science-fiction opera which uses the songs of David Bowie and sounds promising. The disc includes a 40-minute making of, deleted and alternate scenes, and two of Smoczyńska’s short films.