Imagine Hans Christian Andersen’s well-loved fairy-tale ‘’The Little Mermaid’’ – and now imagine that set in the 80s, in a bizarre and colourful, yet sleazy Polish nightclub. That is the basic premise of Agnieszka Smoczyńska 2015 horror musical ‘’The Lure’’ (Córki Dancingu).
Two mesmerizing mermaids – Golden (Michalina Olszańska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) come ashore in Poland after encountering the tipsy band members of the rock band, Figs n’ Dates, celebrating on a beach. Soon, the two creatures are whisked away into the world of performing and stripping for an audience that’s perplexed with their bodies – it makes for perfect entertainment on the darker side of show business.
The two are mystical, with long flowing hair that strategically hides their breasts, much like in images of mermaids in storybooks. However, they have an ugly and chilling side to their appearance – sharp teeth, eerie, blown out pupils, giving them a monstrous quality. In an interview with Rubina Ramji, Smoczyńska said she wanted to portray a modern version of the siren myth. The director claims she got her images and inspiration from mermaids who were considered sisters of dragons in the 14th to 16th centuries. This translates well in the movie as the sisters, despite being as beautiful as the mermaids we are used to seeing, still retain their cruel side, leading humans to their deaths with their siren call.
Silver and Golden spend most of their time on screen naked with people leering and observing them, curious both about their true form, fishtail and all, as well as their human-passing lower halves once they dry out. Apart from legs, they are anatomically void of anything else that is inherently human. This adds to their otherness.
People’s obsession with the mermaid’s bodies could be linked to the blatant misogyny in society, its obsession and over-sexualisation of young girls, and how young girls grow self-conscious, even ashamed of their bodies under the scrutinizing gaze of society. Smoczyńska commented that the mermaids represent innocence, that their odour, slime recall girls maturing: “they menstruate, they ovulate, their bodies start smelling and feeling different.” And more than one character in the movie goes on to make a comment regarding their appearance, their bodies. However, despite alluding to themes of society’s objectification of women, this does not seem like the central part of the movie; it is more of a tongue in cheek element that is drowned by the overall weirdness of the film.
It’s clear that the most consistent storyline that runs throughout is the classic love story of a creature falling for a human – it is the first thing that is indicated in the opening shot, and its run with until the very end. One of the sisters falls in love, whilst the other thirsts for blood. Two opposites, arguably the good and evil, or the naïve and weary. Yet, Smoczyńska throws in many side stories such as the domestic problems of the mermaid’s foster family, the existence of a whole other world of mythical creatures. It adds to the puzzling, confusing and surreal element of the film and tries to stray from the fairy-tale foundation that the movie is built on.
‘’The Lure’’ is a gothic and psychedelic mash-up of glamorous and sometimes chilling musical numbers, gore and sexually charged energy. Glimpsing into a nightmarish disco filled with sequins, glitter and blood, it’s kitschy yet eerie. The lyrics of the catchy songs are laced with references to the sea, the promise not to eat those who join the mermaids.
It’s a film that I struggle to compare to another in its genre. Although maybe ‘’The Lure’’ is slightly reminiscent of the lively world of the dead in Tim Burton’s ‘’Corpse Bride’’ with its morbid themes all wrapped up in a glitzy bow, or perhaps it does take some inspiration from the cult classic’s ‘’The Rocky Horror Picture Show’’ abundance of grit and glamour, iconic musical numbers and a fair dose of strange.
Nevertheless, the ‘’The Lure’’ is s genre-defying with its fair share of hallucinatory and flashy visuals and storylines, a compelling rework of a classic fairy tale. It’s a strong debut for Agnieszka Smoczyńska and we should look out for more of her works in the future.