The world of horror is vast. With so many films across the spectrum of budget, studio involvement, quality, availability, and, above all else, pure scare-the-living-shit-out-of-you-ness, it helps to have trained professionals parse through some of the older and/or lesser-known offerings. That's where Team Fangrrls comes in with Deep Cuts, our series dedicated to bringing the hidden gems of horror out of the vault and into your nightmares. Today we're looking at 2016's The Lure, a bloody terrific horror-musical about man-eating mermaids.
In lore, mermaids have long been depicted as creatures both lovely and lethal. With siren's songs and enticing looks, they lure lovesick sailors into the unforgivable ocean and to their doom. Just beneath the water, just beneath their waists, they hide the monstrous secret of their otherness. These fishy tales were meant to warn men not only of the dangers of the ocean but of sexual women. And while modern movies like The Little Mermaid and Splash have sanitized their sexual threat, Agnieszka Smoczynska's The Lure dives into its depths, creating a violent, sexy, whimsical and disturbing exploration of female desire, sisterhood, and the pressures women face to conform to harmful beauty standards.
Written by Robert Bolesto, The Lure follows mer-sisters Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska), who are happy to lure victims off the shore and into their arms for a deadly embrace. But rather than gobbling up a funky family-band they discover along a murky coastline, the sisters decide to join them. At a sketchy cabaret, Silver and Golden dress in glittery costumes to join matriarch and lead singer Wokalistka Krysia (Kinga Preis) onstage, awing the crowds with their tunes, tits, and tails. But while nightclub stardom comes fast, the land of man offers an unexpected danger for these fierce girls.
From the start, Golden is amused by these humans with their shoes and shopping malls, lust and love. She goes along, but always with the bemused grin of a predator playing with its prey. However, Silver falls hard and fast for this whole new world. She's eager to please and desperate to win the affections of Kryisa's floppy-haired son Mietek (Jakub Gierszal). Such love is perilous for mermaids. Golden warns her sister that his rejection could literally kill Silver, turning her into sea foam. And besides, there's a unique obstacle to this boy meets mer-girl tale. When they take human form, these mermaids have no genitalia. They're "like a Barbie" down there. To get the "pussy" she needs to get the boy, Silver must endure a horrendous operation that will forever rob her of her tail, and maybe her voice. It's a less than subtle metaphor made graphic and grotesque with a jaw-dropping surgery scene. And all of this threatens Silver's deep connection to her sister, who refuses to be tamed by these men or their desires.
Smoczynska plays with beauty standards of women and mermaids with casting and character design. She chose gorgeous actresses for the lead roles. And while they are often naked in the film, their bodies, though beguiling, are also presented as powerful and dangerous. Men may ogle and gaze while the girls smile, but behind those smiles hide rows of fanged teeth, hungry to rip out the throats of these fools. Their tails aren't vibrantly colored elegant fish tails, but big, thick eels tails, spiked and slimy. Smoczynska refuses to create perfect pin-ups for the Male Gaze, instead presenting beautiful monsters who are objectified by man but to man's peril. Golden makes meals of those who would possess her. Meanwhile, Silver's arc becomes a bloody cautionary tale for girls who'd surrender their true identities to please a man.
Wrapped in a glitzy grungy aesthetic that's both suitably alluring and revolting, The Lure tells a Little Mermaid story with glam rock bravado and mind-bending body horror. Smoczynska takes the outline of the familiar fairy tale to sinister and scintillating places. Lusty musical numbers leap from candy-colored shopping malls to a seedy cabaret where Silver and Golden's moody glam-rock jam throws the crowd into an orgasmic frenzy as they strut and shimmy in sequined mini-dresses with bold shoulder pads and warrior-like eye make-up. Moments of flirtation and sexual fumbling give way to bloody bits and grim gore. And with each song, Smoczynska lures us in deeper and deeper into her twisted story. Golden and Silver even look directly to camera, singing to us, inviting us to dive in.
"Help us come to shore.
There's nothing to fear.
We won't eat you, my dear.
Eat you, eat you, eat you."
The Lure is a lot of things. It's a rapturous celebration of untamed female sexual desire. It's a damning criticism of a world that would demand young women limit themselves or cut off parts of their identity to appease Male Gaze and suffocating beauty standards. It's a monster movie where you'll root for the monsters as they seduce, swoon, captivate and kill. And it's a bit of a mystifying mess, its story spun sometimes out of order, snarled in fits of mood, and tangled in many, many musical numbers. But that too is part of its dark, dreamy charm. Watching The Lure feels like falling into a strange dream, where everything is fascinating yet confusing, beautiful but dangerous. And when you wake, this movie's striking visuals and haunting soundtrack will follow you, plastering your face with a crooked, grateful grin.