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The Lure | Review

They Could Go on Singing: Smoczynska’s Debut a Fairy Tale Grim

Agnieszka Smoczynska The Lure PosterPolish director Agnieszka Smoczynska crafts a memorable directorial debut with The Lure, a 1980s set horror musical concerning two mermaid sisters who allow themselves to be exploited as a new act in a Warsaw nightclub. The usual motifs associated with either fairy tales or coming-of-age metaphors feel muted in fantastical set pieces and impressive moments utilizing practical special effects. With incredible style and flair, it’s almost easy to forgive a somewhat meandering screenplay, which suddenly morphs into hyper drive for a rushed finale. Still, until we reach these truncated moments, it’s an often unpredictable and visually arresting series of sequences accompanied by catchy pop covers or its own insanely strange pieces.

On a dark night, a family of musicians encounter a pair of singing mermaids as they carouse on the shore. Begging to be invited to land, a handsome Bass player (Jakub Gierszal) and his Drummer dad (Andrzej Konopka) help the sisters out of the water, though a piercing shriek from lead vocalist mom (Kinga Preis) indicates trouble to come. The sisters, Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) follow the musical family to the nightclub where they work, and are immediately signed as new musical act by the club’s owner (Zygmunt Malanowicz). But no one seems to realize the sisters might, in fact, be malignant, and as they become a new sensation known as “The Lure,” Golden starts to fall in love with the bass player.

As a unique hybrid with its own particular agenda, The Lure isn’t effective as horror or dark comedy, but should find beloved fans in search of a new cult musical to worship. Initially, uneasiness lurks around every sequence since we’re expecting these multi-lingual siren sisters to wreak utter havoc on the small Polish community. Why they’ve chosen this current hamlet isn’t quite clear, but they stay longer than normal thanks to Golden’s love for the first-wave hipster bass player. While Silver feeds off members of the local population, we’re given vague details about the fate of those who fall in love with humans unable to reciprocate their attachment, at which point we’re pretty sure what’s in store.

Smoczynska’s actual title translates as “The Daughter of the Dancing” referring to the types of venues depicted here, establishments aping Western pop songs and popular cultural reference, eventually abolished. These alien creatures seem an awful lot like Hans Christian Anderson crossed with figures from Greek mythology, and Smoczynska’s resurrection of a particular lost moment recalls a similarly nostalgic, unattainable period. However, most of these characters aren’t given actual names, all representative of familiar types.

In the first half of the film, lead singer/mother Kinga Preis is an arresting character, resembling the white Julie Brown and crooning a hypnotic cover of Donna Summers’ “I Feel Love.” She falls to the wayside while her son’s doomed love story plays out, though what we’re supposed to take away from the fate of the mermaids seems unclear beyond the usual consequences of attaching oneself to objects slated to expire. Always interesting, but not quite as outlandish as all its garish angles would indicate, The Lure marks Agnieszka Smoczynska as a talented, contemporary figure in the Polish film industry, and this calling card bodes well for a promising, unpredictable future.

Reviewed on January 22nd at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival – World Dramatic Competition Programme. 92 Min.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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