Wait until you see our teeth!

Wait until you see our teeth!


The Lure: The Sum of its Parts

If you happen to be looking for a textbook example of film as collaborative art, a special feature on the DVD of The Lure might be one of the best. The movie itself is a sort of musical/horror hybrid. It involves a pair of mermaids (not the cute kind) who come ashore and land in an adult entertainment club in a version of the 1980s. There is a reason for this setting. The director and the two sisters who wrote the score all spent their childhood with parents who ran such a club. The childhood memories of the club add a layer of Fellini-like strangeness. The movie is mostly set inside of a club, and by a weird fluke, the actual club the sisters grew up in was available, complete with the original ’80s décor. The director’s stated goal was to reinvent the musical, and it’s hard to argue that the hybrid of styles she uses don’t at least stretch the boundaries of the form.

The usual collaborative process when making films involves a hierarchy. There is a producer who assembles the elements. The director takes those elements and combines them into a whole. The various people who contribute to the whole each have a designated job, and the director or producer has the last word. The Lure was assembled somewhat differently. While the director and choreographer prep-worked with the leads (on much more than the dance moves- the mermaid tails were six-feet long and weighed 55 pounds), the sound designer and musicians worked with the writer to initially produce a sort of “radio play” of the script that allowed them to test the story for holes. Songs and scores were left open-ended so that the music could adapt itself to the action. This gradual and careful layering of elements underpins a whole whose dissonant parts might easily fly apart.

And the parts are quite impressive. There are musical numbers that occur in the club setting. (Bob Fosse’s work on Cabaret is a stated influence here.) Other numbers occur “in real life” the way they might in a traditional musical (including one set in a market that puts anything in La La Land to shame). Other numbers are staged as if they are rock videos. It all looks really incredible, and names like Lynch, Cronenberg, Fassbinder and Almodovar might all be invoked without exaggeration.

The title of the film refers to the name of the mermaid’s act in the adult nightclub. Director Agnieszka Smoczynska hints that the mermaid story is a metaphor for puberty (the mermaids morph easily from half- sea serpents to female humans with lower halves that evoke Barbie dolls with almost zero CGI). It is when the sisters are in their mermaid form—monstrous and carnivorous—that the horror aspects come to the fore. The baked-in sound design (telepathic mermaids are especially unsettling) gives everything an extra layer of dread. That this is such a densely constructed effort by a first-time filmmaker is partly explained by what a team effort the whole thing is.