Two mermaid sisters get a chance to rock, and chomp, out while falling in love in the genre-bending grotesque, burlesque musical romp, The Lure.
Thirty years ago, Ron Howard’s romantic comedy, Splash featured a young boy who falls for a beautiful, mythical creature. While the tone of that film was light and comical, first-time feature director Agnieszka Smoczyńska has a decidedly different take in this musical tale. Unsure on which tone to use for his story, Smoczyńska tries to fit them all into this wild tale and along the way, this scattershot approach undermines the story’s overall effectiveness.
On the surface, the story is simple: two sisters, who are also mermaids surface from the sea, join a pop band and end up in a messy love triangle while trying to hide their true murderous nature from their bandmates. Sisters, Silver and Golden (Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska) are lonely under the sea. They observe their human counterparts and one night they see their chance to leave the sea with the help of a local band, Figs and Dates.
The group of musicians helps them escape the ocean after the two aquatic bombshells promise “not to eat” their guests and soon they are hired as backup singers for the band. In no time, they become the feature attraction at the club and Silver catches the eye of one of her bandmates, Mietek, much to Golden’s chagrin.
According to mythology and other folk traditions, mermaids can be benevolent or beneficent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans. Smoczyńska toys with this theme with varying degrees of success in this story. While both sisters share similar experiences, Golden is much less trusting and comfortable than her free-spirited sibling. As she falls deeper and deeper for Mietek, Golden is warned ‘that any mermaid that falls in love with a human and he marries some else will turn them into sea-foam by night’s end.’
SEE ALSO: SUNDANCE ’16 PREVIEW
Smoczyńska hits plenty of high notes in this story that feels like a true three-part play, each with its own identity. The first act is bright and vibrant, full of song and possibilities for our ‘soul’ sisters. The story grows ominous and much darker in the second act as Silver yearns to be a woman for the man that she loves. Instead of a cute mermaid with the fish tail fins, that we have been accustomed to seeing in most stories, Smoczyńska’s gives us beautiful, virginal young teens with the tails of a sea creature whose innocent appearance belies their grotesque horror within.
The biggest surprise is musical numbers that happen early and often in the first two acts. If this film doesn’t catch fire in theaters, Smoczyńska definitely has a foot-tapping musical that could find success on Broadway. While much of the action is centered at the club where the band plays, there are other musical numbers that seemingly break out of nowhere, articulating the characters feelings and concerns that initially feel out-of-place but become more comfortable over time.
The film is reminiscent of several other experimental stories that have dotted Sundance in past years, including films such as R100, The Killers and Wetlands. Each film, made outside of the Hollywood studio system, is notable not for the subject matter that they attack but the sometimes colorful execution each story possesses.
While one can applaud Smoczyńska’s sheer audacity with his adventurous screenplay, The Lure is a film that reads and feels more authentic as a screenplay than the finished cinematic product. Despite some winning moments, ultimately, Smoczyńska’s failure to commi to a particular tone prevents this ‘fish-out-of-water tale’ from swimming to glory.