At the beginning of Agnieszka Smoczynska's The Lure, a young musician stands off the shores of Poland and sings a beautiful ballad. It's for no one in particular, but it captures the attention of two young mermaids who are, apparently, passing by. As the general mermaid lore goes, they have beautiful singing voices, so it's perhaps unsurprising that they tempt him with a tune. What's more surprising, however, are the lyrics that accompany it.
The lyrics amount to, "Come closer, don't worry, we're not going to eat you, pinkie swear!" and that exemplifies The Lure and its zany, genre-bending premise. These are mermaids who want to sing and dance, but they also have this craving for human flesh that could be uncontrollable. Wrapped together in what can (somehow) accurately be described as a mermaid-musical-romance-horror-comedy, The Lure is at its best when it keeps its story simple, though it eventually bogs down its third act. But yes, there's really nothing quite like it.
The Lure is mostly centered around a popular nightclub in 1980s Poland, which is where the two mermaids, Silver and Golden, perform at the behest of the seedy owner who is hoping the fact that they are literal mermaids will draw in huge crowds. Part of the enticement is the fact that Silver and Golden can have human legs for a time (though, oddly, no genitalia), but a splash of water will turn their lower half fishlike again.
The nightclub has a fascinating energy, and the mermaids' performances — which is where the movie gets its title from, as the nightclub calls their act The Lure — highlight some of the film's best moments. And to be clear, The Lure won't shortchange its audience on musical numbers — it includes a montage of Silver and Golden shopping for clothes in a city that's so disparately cheerful it feels like a deleted scene from La La Land.
Where The Lure struggles, however, is maintaining some semblance of a plot. The big draw is the budding romance between Silver and the musician from the opening scene, Mietek, who is transfixed by the mermaid but has his doubts that they could make it work (she is a mermaid, after all). It's an entertaining riff on Hans Christian Andersen's original lore for The Little Mermaid, which includes said mermaid turning into sea foam if her beloved is married to someone else. Golden, meanwhile, is concerned about what this romance could do to Silver while also trying to satisfy her desires for human flesh in the literal sense.
The mermaid mythology outside of Andersen's mythos that The Lure produces is also exceedingly entertaining. One gift Golden and Silver have is the ability to communicate, somewhat telepathically, through sounds that resemble dolphin squeals. Plus, Triton — yes, the Greek sea god — has an on-land cameo that's not worth spoiling any further.
There are some very on-the-nose metaphors here for two young women becoming aware of changes to their body, how they're being exploited, as well as being tempted by other vices (Golden and Silver both try out their first cigarettes at the club, among other things). It's a shame then that The Lure loses its focus in the final act, because a taut coming-of-age fairy tale with flesh-eating mermaids should, first and foremost, be a lot of fun.
Poor ending notwithstanding, there's a pretty simple barometer for moviegoers who would want to see The Lure. Does this bonkers premise — coupled with a ton of musical numbers — sound appealing to you? If yes, then The Lure will be as captivating as the mermaids' soothing, hypnotic vocals.
The Lure premieres in the U.S. on Feb. 1 in New York City at the IFC Center.