Boston Underground Film Festival 2016: ‘The Lure’

There's no denying the worthiness of The Lure's experimental qualities, but its characters get drowned in the music and never really find their way out.

The Lure, which opened the 18th annual Boston Underground Film Festival, had two tasks in front of it. The first: set the tonal stage for what to expect from the exciting, non-conformist festival. The second: entertain, titillate, and innovate. Did it accomplish both? The answer is yes, and in dazzling fashion.

In the beginning of the film, there’s nothing to indicate that major chaos will soon be unfolding. Oppressive, murky shots from underwater ascend to reveal our two heroines, a pair of mermaid sisters named Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska). Silver falls in love with a musician (Jakub Gierszal) that she spies from afar, and the two sisters find their way onshore and stumble into their roles as nightclub singers in a band that includes the musician on bass.

Throughout its standard, hour-and-a-half runtime, The Lure plays with genre, oscillating wildly between horror, erotic thriller, and indie drama. It’s all those, and then some. Above all that, however, it should be noted that The Lure is, first and foremost, a new-wave musical about Communist Poland in the ’80s.

Whether or not The Lure is meant to be some greater allegory about female sexuality, or communist governance, is irrelevant. There’s plenty to read into it to make the case that it’s more than a wet-and-wild musical. But does it really matter when the style of the film is so intoxicatingly feverish? The Lure is original, beyond a doubt, and this is very much the same reception it received at Sundance. It plays out like a fever dream, part Lynch, part Żuławski’s Possession, part The Little Mermaid meets Cabaret.

One can accuse The Lure of being incomprehensible. That much is, unfortunately, true. One cannot, however, accuse it of being dull or rote.

Indeed, much of what carries The Lure is its stubborn, freewheeling originality. It’s refreshing, like a splash of cool water on the face, if you will. The cinematography is taut, economic, always showing just enough to make a point, and it’s strengthened immensely by the wonderful neon lighting. The scenes, which are well-choreographed, have the trappings of classic musical style, but none of the predictability. Above all, it’s a fresh film.

All that being said, it’s hard to ignore the film’s flaws. While it may work well as a Lynchian experiment, playful in its fast-and-loose, dreamlike editing, The Lure has a narrative backbone that doesn’t coalesce in a meaningful way. The story, which follows very strongly the budding relationship between Silver and her crush, never makes itself interesting enough to care about, and while the actors display a great deal of aptitude in bringing their characters to life, there is a disappointing tendency of the film to lose them, and their stories, amongst the musical chaos.

The whole film is propped up very heavily by the weight of the film’s extremely fun musical numbers, which mostly take place in a nightclub where the sisters alternate between backup vocals and striptease, but it doesn’t stand up to the removal of those musical numbers. The coming-of-age flowering sexuality of Silver is never compelling enough, nor legible enough, to make much of a splash.

But for all the film’s narrative shortcomings, there’s something to be said for how unapologetically unique the whole affair is. There’s nothing in the world that could possibly prepare someone for a Polish mermaid horror musical. It’s as insane as the title suggests, but it’s also serious. What could have sunk The Lure is if it had approached its subject matter with the ironic distance of a parodical comedy, but it didn’t. Interestingly enough, it treated its subject matter with a hidden, but detectable, respect.

That’s not to say it’s stuffy, but it is a serious film. It doesn’t always work, unfortunately, but there’s no denying that it’s a bold and creative film with a human story hiding beneath the insanity, and for that it should be commended. Forging a new path is always a difficult endeavor, but Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Smoczynska’s first feature film proves that it can be done with an abundance of inventiveness and style. So, yes, there’s a very good chance that The Lure will reel you in.