The Lure

Studio: Criterion

Oct 30, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Familiarity with Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of "The Little Mermaid”, which tells the story of the human/amphibian hybrid who sacrifices her beautiful singing voice to be "fully human,” relegates the primary ideas of the title character to longing for the “human experience” — the touch, feel, smell, even, as the Alan Menken penned “Part of Your World” suggests, the quotidian — which is by no means an inaccurate interpretation. It certainly is true that, at least in the Walt Disney animated adaptation, Ariel’s longing is for (at least ostensibly) an experience that concretely understands the physicality of humanness. It's the more honed-in allegory of this story that makes Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s horror remix The Lure all the more intriguing; it’s not just about being human, but about being a human woman. Smoczyńska’s approach, which sets the film in trashy Polish club in the 1980s, examines the mermaids’ desires for womanness, and the exploitation of marginalized bodies. What The Lure does to Hans Christian Anderson’s tale is reconfigure it to be a body horror film about trans identity.

Writing as a cisgender person (in that I identity with the gender I was assigned at birth, therefore male), my understanding is that body horror has been particularly fruitful within areas of queer study in cinema. Films like The Fly or Under the Skin aren’t just films about transformation or a kind of oppressive gaze, but the way that the attempt of an act of being in that body catalyzes something reactive in people.

For The Lure, a club owner sees these mermaids, Golden (Michalina Olszańska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) as both talented and worthy of his, and the audience’s, lust and gaze. It is not only that they can sing, and it is not only that they are sexy, straddling the line between nubile and adult femininity, but explicitly that their bodies are not like the bodies of other women. Throw them in a little water and their “true selves” are revealed. This, not at the expense of overt bigotry, but rather exploitation. They, with their club act “The Lure” — which is reminiscent of the sort of transphobic accusations lobbed by other cisgender people that have been with trans people — can ascend into a relative amount of fame because their bodies are not like other bodies.

Golden and Silver’s songs alternately describe the intense feelings of pleasure of lust and love, sometimes of commodifying their status as mermaids against the humans that make of the rest of the club’s acts, and especially of inhabiting a body that is their own.

When Silver falls deeper in love with the bassist of one of the club acts, it causes her an issue because he sees her only as a “mermaid”, a mermaid with quotation marks, not as a woman worthy of love or pleasure. She believes the only way to be validated and to win his love is to have her fin surgically removed and to conceive of herself as a “real woman” by way of her body. It does not go as planned.

The horror elements of The Lure are only dazzling inasmuch as they are vessels to understanding Golden and Silver’s desires. They have sharp teeth and a taste for flesh, but part of that palate seems to be informed by how much Silver, at least, wants that flesh to be as integral a part of her identity and being as it is for the humans she eats.

Smoczyńska balances out some of the wackier elements of her film with an intimate understanding of how much these characters are at conflict with their bodies, a kind of dysmorphia as horror story, again, reminiscent of Glazer’s Under the Skin. When the film isn’t on Golden and Silver, it doesn’t have as much narrative or emotional drive and several of its tracks are acquired tastes, but there’s a hypnotic quality to Golden and Silver on screen. Swinging between stripper and singer, they perform their femininity through much of the film for an audience, whether of one or a full house. The film hits its stride when we see the two sisters alone, reconciling with how much they want their femininity to be something for themselves. For these mermaids, “the lure” is the promise of cis femininity itself.


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