[This is a re-post of my review from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The Lure opens this weekend in limited release.]
At its core, the myth of the sirens expresses a fear about female sexuality and that the most beautiful women must also possess the most vicious temperament. Agnieszka Smoczynska’s The Lure begins promisingly enough with approaching siren sisters who take different directions when they try to live among humans, but the movie is so aggressively weird and abrasive that it lacks any emotional heft to the character’s journey, and at times seems to be acting strange for the sake of throwing us off-kilter rather than seducing us further into this bizarre tale. And that’s a shame because somewhere beneath the erratic behavior, musical numbers, and mythology, The Lure has song worth hearing.
While stopped on the side of the road, a family of musicians encounters sirens Golden and Silver. Rather than devouring the family, the sirens decide to join the band (they can hide their fins if they dry out, but they don’t have genitals or anuses), and at first they become enamored of the rock star lifestyle and getting to sing in an adult entertainment club. However, Silver starts to fall for the family’s son and considers permanently leaving a life on land. Golden, on the other hand, holds on to her primal nature, and while she may wear human clothes and live with a human family, she can’t resist feeding on people. Eventually, Silver is faced with the choice of giving up her fins for legs, and Golden must try to convince her sister that they must return to the sea.
However, the movie engages in plenty of diversions along the way to this fairly tame climax. For example, at one point Golden encounters a woman who accuses her of killing a marine, and somehow this encounter leads not only to a musical number but also a lesbian sex scene between Golden and the woman who’ve barely seen before and who we barely see again afterwards. We also get the occasional appearances from Triton, who shows up in the form of a death metal rocker and whose sole purpose is to drop in mythology that we know will be carried out to its conclusion.
These tangents detract from the initially solid first act where the mythology of the sirens is turned on its head, and creatures are turned into characters who have agency. Rather than being presented as a threat towards men, Golden and Silver are individual women who have power and motives, and we’re eager to see what they’ll do next. If Silver chooses to become human, does that mean she’s lost agency? Is that what it means to be a woman in this world? Golden is always in control, but she’s animalistic and will never know love. Can she ever be more than a beast?
It would have been wonderful if Smoczynska delved deeper into these questions, but the movie drowns with erratic character behavior and there’s barely any flow to the narrative. The family of musicians hardly has any consistency to their characters other than being shallow and selfish, but in The Lure, characters can betray each other in one scene and then twenty minutes later make up and move on. It’s difficult to address real human emotions when the film works so hard to eschew any recognizable behavior.
I don’t mind that The Lure can be difficult to untangle, but it gets so lost in subtext that the text becomes meaningless, which is unfortunate because near the end the movie comes back to a recognizable story with a real emotional connection between Golden and Silver. The film’s also helped by a terrific performance Michalina Olszanska, who plays Golden and clearly relishes a performance where she gets to play a literal man-eater. But the film’s strengths can’t withstand the deluge of strangeness, and muddled characters and sloppy storytelling drown out the siren’s song.