The Lure (alternatively Po Po Poland or The Neon Mermaid) is a frankly bizarre and twisted fairytale. Two mermaids, Silver and Gold, happen upon a trio of musicians by the shore, only to be invited back to the club where they are residents to become backing singers and strippers. The vampyric duo seem open to behaving and performing, though tensions quickly arise as one feels the need to feast while the other is smitten over the band’s guitarist.
Seemingly determined to highlight his struggle at any moment, Damien Chazelle has spoken extensively about trying to find funding for La La Land. No one wanted to fund a modern musical, he says. One can hardly imagine the pitch Agnieszka Smoczyńska gave to studios when seeking funding for The Lure. It has more musical performances than the awards darling, and hits a number of genres from Eurovision-esque pop to ambient numbers influenced by James Blake. That they are mostly performed in an adult cabaret bar by a musical family and two mermaids make it a hard sell, and the film itself never makes the whole thing easy. At times it seems to indulge in its musical madness to the extent that its absurdity is the point, while at others there are shades of a much more thoughtful film touching on trafficking and reactions to female sexuality.
The absurd sections call to mind The Neon Demon, with similar body horror shots and a fascination with the supposed vulnerability of two beautiful young women in a seedy environment. Like Refn’s film, how these are represented visually is more important than anything that is actually happening, and shares its problem in making the viewer uncomfortably voyeuristic. At times the grim visuals reminded me of Nina Forever, a beautiful film that was nowhere near as clever as it thought it was. Framing Silver and Gold as Little Red Riding Hood figures of innocence surrounded by feral and faulty humans only works for so long, especially since the audience knows their dishonest interest for their new occupation and their ability to rip their prey to shreds. The camera fetishises a purity that is entirely at odds with the predator’s nature.
Where the film works is when tensions arise between Silver and Gold, and through disturbing nods to The Little Mermaid. At times they appear to be on the same page, while one is secretly off betraying the other. They communicate through a harrowing mermaid language that sounds like dolphin song mixed with a bow sliding on guitar strings, sometimes scheming when surrounded by hosts, sometimes arguing while acting. As Silver falls for the band’s Mietek, she has to be careful of mermaid superstitions involving fatal consequences.
When The Lure focuses on the great songs, the dynamic between Silver and Gold, and the warped fairytale elements it is a genuinely alluring piece of cinema. It too often meanders into style over substance to make it a must-see, and a few ideas are alluded to but never fully brought to life past a very literal metaphor (immigrants on their way elsewhere but end up in a sex industry). For better or worse, there is nothing quite like it.