It's one of those overused lines in film criticism: “You've never seen anything like NAME OF MOVIE!” But in the case of Polish horror-fantasy musical “The Lure,” it's accurate.
Is it ever. A gory, blood-drenched version of “The Little Mermaid” set in 1980s Warsaw, “The Lure,” which plays Screening Room Cinema Cafe in a limited engagement starting April 6. This wildly original treat may have other stories in its DNA, but successfully displays a strange brilliance all its own.
Director Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s film is so offbeat that it occasionally risks descending into complete absurdity. However, this story of a pair of mermaid sisters “adopted” by a Polish cabaret stays afloat.
Much of this is due to the performances by co-leads Marta Mazurek (whose character is known as Silver) and Michalina Olszańska (Golden). No time is wasted on background, but we discern quickly that Golden and Silver have only each other.
This bond helps make the duo into queens of the nightclub. Performing alongside a live band and singer, the sisters make use of a rather incredible ability: they have legs on land, until touched by water. Once the H2O hits, Golden and Silver return to their natural, long-tailed state.
Mazurek and Olszańska are believable as the sisters, but they also excel at creating two very different characters. Silver is the romantic, a girl who wants to find real, “human” love. Silver believes she has found this with Mietek (Jakub Gierszał), the club band’s bass player.
Golden, on the other hand, is a hard-edged realist, or, as much of a realist as a singing mermaid can be. She recognizes the risks of falling in love, and fears for her beloved sister.
Some of the film’s most emotional moments are sung -- yes, “The Lure” is also a musical. Roughly 15 minutes into the film comes the first song, an incongruously cheerful number about the joys of shopping. Characters continue to periodically break into song, and somehow these diversions feel proper. It helps that the songs and staging are so memorable.
Also proper is the gore. Golden has a vampire-ish lust for human blood, and the calm of the nightclub “family” is jolted by the realization that she has killed. (The film’s most gorgeous, painterly shot is one of Golden slithering away from a kill into the water.)
It becomes clear that any chance of normalcy is gone, especially for Golden. But Silver maintains her hope for love. “The Lure” ends in tragedy, as a story of doomed sisterhood should. The final moments are visually breathtaking and tremendously sad.
It will be fascinating to see what’s next for director Agnieszka Smoczyńska and her cast. More “Phantom of the Paradise” than “La La Land,” this horror-musical deserves to become a cult classic. And its director and leads deserve international notoriety.
Despite a few overly silly missteps, “The Lure” is a real success. Somber, thrilling and darkly humorous, it’s one of the year’s most unique surprises. At the risk of sounding cliched, you’ve never seen anything like it.
3.5 stars (out of four)
Starring: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszańska, Kinga Preis, Jakub Gierszał, Andrzej Konopka
Director: Agnieszka Smoczyńska
Running time: 92 minutes
Rated: Unrated, but equivalent to R for strong sexual content, nudity and graphic violence.
The lowdown: In 1980s Warsaw, a pair of mermaid sisters are adopted into a cabaret, with horrific results. In Polish with subtitles.