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Lure, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A couple cute Polish mermaids gets me in the theater for something weird."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "The Lure" includes what is thus far one of my favorite moments of the festival, when a mermaid who is starting to follow the story of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" fairly closely rolls her eyes at her sister's worries about where that leads, saying it's "just a superstition". The movie's at its best when it's able to be as untethered from expectations as something described as a Polish period horror musical should be; it's less exciting when it opts to follow the template.

It starts by happily mashing up mermaid and siren mythology, with sisters Zwota (Michalina Olszanska) and Srebrna (Marta Mazurek) rising up out of the Vistula River, singing to the musicians practicing on shore that they would never eat them, even as the song entrances the men. Fortunately, their singer Krysia (Kinga Preis) snaps them out of it, and soon Zwota (subtitled "Golden") and Srebrna ("Silver") have been added to their band - these mermaids can manifest legs apparently at will, although getting wet brings the tail back - and are bringing a lot of new fans to the kind of scuzzy nightclub where they play, and whlie Zwota saw Warsaw as just a nice stop to maybe eat a few lowlifes on the way to America, Srebrna is developing a huge crush on bass player Mietek (Jakub Gierszal), despite his not being sure about a relationship with some who isn't, well, human, and how dangerous all-around the legends say it is for a mermaid to fall for a man.

There haven't been a lot of movies quite like The Lure; the closest thing that comes to mind is The Phantom of the Paradise, another garish fantasy placing a classic story in a nightclub with a catchy beat to hold it together. The filmmakers infuse it with a thrilling energy, because even if 1980s Poland is not exactly prosperous and performing at this club involves stripping as much as singing, there's still the chance to reinvent oneself, make music, and do whatever you enjoy. The songs can be funny and passionate, and director Agnieszka Smoczynska stages them as bona fide musical numbers happening right there out in the open and in the characters' heads at the same time. Even when the story is looking for a direction early on, it's exciting; anything can happen both in a movie and in a young woman's life.

And the film does give us a couple of memorable young women. Marta Mazurek, especially, is fantastic; the blonde younger sister has a tremendous openness to her at almost all times and looks at the world around her with wonder, but Mazurek gets across that she's her own woman making her own choices, even if she might naturally seem overshadowed by her sibling. I'm not sure how much it's on her and how much it's due to the makeup/effects crew that she seems uncomfortable when the black eyes and fangs come out, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Michalina Olszanska, meanwhile, plays Zwota with more swagger and confidence; she doesn't want to be anything but who and what she is, even if she gets excited about doing new and different things. Still, some of her best scenes involve her unexpectedly being a soft touch where her sister is concerned when you might expect the killer to come out to protect Srebrna. They're ably supported by a number of folks, most notably Kinga Preis - who, in the middle of playing the "aunt" tasked with looking out for these two girls who know little about the human world, also finds space in the corners of the movie to show what it's like to hit middle age in a young woman's game like rock & roll - and Jakub Gierszal, who makes Mietek appealing even if he's almost certainly not worthy of Srebrna.

There's so much potential there that the movie stumbles trying to find the place it wants to go - it uses the pair being musicians to give them a place to hang out as much as a story driver, the cops investigating Zwota's feeding habits tend to go nowhere, and a punk merman played by Marcin Kowalczyk is a neat idea but one that doesn't really have a place in the story. Eventually, writer Robert Bolesto seems to go with a 1980s take on The Little Mermaid, which in and of itself isn't a bad idea; it just seems like the least exciting choice and requires a whole lot of things to be jammed into the story late in the game.

Even with that sort of conventional last act, I still recommend "The Lure" to folks who would like to see something different and exciting; there really isn't much like it and the stars are great. Just think, though, of where it could have gone if what we knew about mermaids was just a superstition...

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originally posted: 07/24/16 02:04:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2016 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2016 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2016 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 AFI Film Festival For more in the 2016 AFI Festival series, click here.

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