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In ‘The Lure,’ Horny Cannibal Mermaids Have a Lot to Say About Lust

A terrifying and carnal metaphor for the complexities of human desire, this loosely based adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ dives deep

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at The Lure, Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s carnivorous mermaid rock opera, which is available to stream on Criterion Channel.

Young mermaid sisters Silver and Golden wash up on the shore of Warsaw and are taken in by the house band for a local nightclub. The band treats them as their daughters, while also having them perform in their act as strippers and backup singers. Pretty soon, the girls become the leading act, but each sister goes down a different path, with Silver falling for the band’s bassist Mietek and Golden giving into her more carnivorous urges by devouring local men.

The Lure (or Córki Dancingu, which literally translates to Daughters of Dancing) is a genre-defying film. All at once, it’s a rock opera, a coming-of-age story, a horror film and a fairy tale, being structurally based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. (True to form, Silver even changes herself into a human-esque figure to win Mietek’s heart.) Some of the film is also based on Smoczyńska’s own history, as she spent part of her youth in a nightclub where her mother worked. “That’s where I had my first shot of vodka, first cigarette, first sexual disappointment and first important feeling for a boy,” she said in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine.

Even aside from their carnivorous tendencies, fishy smell and razor-sharp fangs, Smoczyńska’s mermaids differ in some other key ways from traditional images of the aquatic beauties. Namely, while the sisters can change to a more humanoid form, they are without genitalia or anuses when walking on two legs, holeless and smooth like a Barbie doll. It’s only when in their true forms that they have genitals, with a slit embedded into the length of their six-foot-long, dragon-like fish tails. Given the erotic nature of each sister’s desires, you could say the whole movie is about fish pussy.

The Lure is rife with allegory and sensuality, allowing for multiple readings of its narrative. But what’s most interesting are the queer elements and almost blatant transfeminine themes, with a heavy emphasis on the girls’ relationships with their bodies and how they relate to the world around them. The film’s music (provided by Polish duo Ballady I Romanse, a real-life pair of sisters) gives deft insight into these societal expectations, with the sisters singing, “The city will tell us what it is we lack.”

Everybody wants Silver and Golden (including their new mother and father figure) for what makes them different, but by that same measure, they’re afraid to confront that desire. Silver grows gradually more uncomfortable in her body when Mietek explains that while he likes her, he will never think of her as a woman or anything more than “a fish, an animal.” Eventually, she changes herself to please the Evan Peters-looking douchebag, and in the most subversive take on the original story, undergoes a sort of bottom surgery where she is sawed in half and given a human groin and legs, losing her voice so she can have the right holes for her man. 

Conversely, Golden feeds off of everyone’s attraction to her (both figuratively and literally), embodying a carnal drive and seducing men to eat their hearts while having queer sex with women as she pleases, fins and scales and all. She’s liberated in a way her sister can’t be, seeing the humans around her only as a means to her own desires.

Who knew fish pussy could be so deep?

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.