So how about a horror movie featuring sexy mermaids who become disco singers in 1980s Poland? The Lure (Córki dancingu) is the film you’re after, so grabby as a concept that it went straight into the Criterion Collection after its release in 2015, which isn’t bad considering that’s where Kurosawa, Truffaut, Bergman and Claire Denis all hang out together. In the words of Criterion, this is where “important classic and contemporary films” are to be found.
It’s also not bad for a debut feature, by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, who’s recently grabbed more attention with her The Silent Twins, another story of two isolated sisters leaning on each other for support.
But not like this. The Lure is a far more in-your-face exercise in camp and has us by the scruff of the neck with its opening scene. It’s nighttime. Three drunken Poles are singing by the edge of what must be the Baltic (yes?) when suddenly they become aware they are being watched from the water by two beautiful mermaids. The two men are instantly mesmerised; the sole female, meanwhile, is less enchanted and is screaming her lungs out.
Roll credits. The arresting intro is followed by another crowd-pleasing scene, a cover version of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love performed by the three humans we’ve just met, who turn out to be a nightclub act called Figs & Dates (Figi & Daktyle). The two young mer-women – tails decorously swapped for legs and now installed in this den of semi-iniquity (pole dancers, hookers etc etc) – in no time at all have an act of their own, called The Lure. The fact that they can bring any number to a big finish by transforming into full-bore mermaids – hot and now topless – means that singing isn’t an absolute priority for the largely male clientele, but they can do that too.
We learn a bit about the biology of these strange creatures – no vagina, no belly button, as smooth down there as a Barbie doll. There is a slit some way down the tail where human males can, if they want to, do their thing. Though the smell is pretty strong. “Fishy,” sniffs the club’s old owner (Zygmunt Malanowicz), as if that’s kind of how women smell anyway.
Those tails, though, long, powerful-looking and more reptilian than is normal in a mermaid movie, suggest a dark side. And so it turns out. These mermaids have a very particular diet. And it’s not krill.
So much for the set-up. The meat in this sandwich comes from handsome bassist Mietek (Jakub Gierszal) falling for Silver (Marta Mazurek), one of the mermaids. Since he’s not much of a one for sticking his penis into a fishy slit, this relationship isn’t going anywhere… unless Silver takes the plunge and transforms permanently into a human, a proposition that drives a wedge between her and her sister, Gold (Michalina Olszanska), who retaliates by going off with Triton (Marcin Kowalczyk), another sub-aquatic refugee who now earns a crust topside by singing in a punk band. As you do.
In real life, Smoczyńska’s mother ran a night club and it’s her memories of hanging out with adults doing the things they do in clubs that provide the inspiration for this gonzo re-interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, a rather downbeat story of a mermaid giving it all up for love.
Smoczyńska isn’t sure how straight a face to keep while telling her story. A couple more overt laughs wouldn’t have hurt The Lure, or a fast-forward into the gorey last act, maybe. For the most part it’s sexy mermaids looking sexy and Mietek not being quite sure what he’s landed himself, while Smoczyńska gets on with her story, one part Creature Feature, one part Eurovision Song Contest glitterball.
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