Sundance 2016: The Lure review

★★★★☆
As far as plot synopses go, a Polish-vampire-mermaid-80s-musical certainly captures attention. But debut director Agnieszka Smoczynska's violent, sexy fairytale The Lure is more than the sum of its parts; a luscious, strangely enchanting watch and terrific fun for those who'll launch themselves into it. Sirens Silver and Golden (Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska respectively) loiter on the shores of Warsaw in 1980s Poland, hoping to catch unwitting humans to take as food. But on this occasion, Silver refrains from dinner, instantly falling for a young guitarist (Jakub Gierszał) singing on the beach.

The mermaids assume human form and are taken in by the guitarist and his band, who see a business opportunity in their striking vocals and bewitching appearance. In a kitsch discotheque, the group, now called The Lure, performs to seedy punters willing to part cash to see their magical transformation. But as Silver falls more and more for the waifish bass player, Golden warns her not to get too used to life on land. It's not a million miles away from an x-rated The Little Mermaid, packed as it is with gory violence and upfront nudity. And then there's the music by Polish band Ballady i romanse; sultry and spooky, with some wild choreography that stretches from Oliver! style crowd-numbers to cool minimal arrangements.

As a modern movie musical, it swings in and out of diegetic and imagined musical sequences, reminding of God Help the Girl, the British musical that premiered here in Sundance two years ago. The only problem with songs is the film's dire need for a translation rewrite (here's hoping "I need some glucose / The pain's made me morose" sounds better in Polish). However, The Lure is directed with such brio, with the air of a Gothic musical romance - it's a disco-era Wuthering Heights - and Kuba Kijowski's colourful photography really stands out. When Silver decides to become human, the film takes a turn for body horror, which had it not been for the rest of the film would have been a mad turnaround.

But all actors are fully committed, not least Kinga Preis as the band's lead vocalist and the mermaids' new surrogate mother, and Zygmunt Malanowicz as a dirty-old man nightclub owner. Of the two leads, Olszanska is especially capable of evoking danger in her each Machiavellian move. There's a sense of suspense in her every human interaction, as if she could pounce and tear out their throat at any time. Its outlandish coming-of-age nature would've had young teens swooning over the film, so it's unfortunate that it'll likely be handed an 18-certificate if and when it reaches British shores. Even so, adults should be taken in by its mad, Gilliam-esque reverie, that marks a true original.

The 2016 Sundance Film Festival takes place between 21-31 January. Follow our coverage here.

Ed Frankl | @Ed_Frankl

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