Seven jellyfishes, eight jellybabies, Wanna drown in the water and stay dead for ages. Nine jellyfishes, ten jellyfishes, Give me a boyfriend who isn’t amphibious!
– Golden and Silver [singing], The Lure

This Polish musical-horror spectacle is bursting with sensory imagery and a dizzying original score – so it is easy to forget that behind the sparkle and gore therein lies a sensitive cautionary tale of love, innocence and womanhood. The Lure is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid1 – a fable about a mermaid who falls for a man. She gives up her voice and walks awkwardly, painfully on legs, where every step feels like walking on knives. Despite this, he forces her to sleep on the end of the bed like a dog, an unworthy and disdainful object of her tireless and childlike affection. When he eventually casts her aside for another, she is urged to murder him and save her own soul. Instead, “she laughed and danced with the thought of death in her heart”. Soon, she is quietly obliterated, melting into the foam of the sea. Unlike other sanitary interpretations of this story, The Lure is unafraid to lean into the masochistic tragedy that encompasses the original and is perhaps even more violent and melancholic. 

The Little Mermaid is not the only point of reference for this film. There is the other literary nod to Homer’s sirens,2 when the two sisters sing eerily haunting notes to men ashore, both sweetly melodic and with positively frightening lyrics. “There’s no need to fear, We won’t eat you, my dear, Eat you, eat you, eat you…” More significantly, this film has important personal references to the lived experiences of director Agnieszka Smoczyńska and screenwriter Robert Bolesto. In fact, it is Bolesto’s friends, Barbara and Zuzanna Wrońska, upon whom the characters in the film are largely based. Like their oceanic stand-ins, the Wrońska sisters grew up with parents who worked in a nightclub, and many of the film’s key performance scenes are shot in this very same club, the Adria. The electric and bubbly soundtrack, too, is brought to us by the sisters’ band, Ballady i Romanse. Smoczyńska – who grew up in this same soviet-era “dancing restaurants”3  – turned the characters into mermaids to avoid overly close comparisons to the real-life sisters, and this itself becomes a major visual and symbolic gesture.

Also significant is the artist Aleksandra Waliszewska, whose macabre-fantasy style lends itself excellently to the animation sequence that plays over the opening credits. Dreamy sirens pose in dark lairs littered with human remains, skulls bobbing sinisterly in contrast with long-locked beauties – a warning of the creatures we are about to meet. It is also Waliszewska who created the mermaid tails – huge, almost seven-foot-long appendages worn by the actors and operated by pedals (though there is also some CGI enhancement). Due to the physical nature of the mermaids’ roles, there was a long pre-production rehearsal period4 during which Smoczyńska and the cast grew close, as the actors learnt to physically inhabit a bestial, otherwordly mindset in their animalistic movements. The result is extremely convincing, lending both leads a surreal and vulnerable quality to their performances. 

The Lure centres on two mysterious mermaids freshly ashore, simply called Golden (Michalina Olszańska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek), after the colours of their fishy tails. They are brought onto land by members of a local band and soon find themselves employed by a seedy nightclub the band performs at. There is something extremely sensory about the mermaids. They communicate to each other with delphine whistles and clicks, and we are preemptively informed of their “strong” smell: so strong that it wafts through several rooms before the nightclub owner (Zygmunt Malanowicz) is led to the source. Of course, he is willing to overlook it once he becomes enamoured by those emitting it, dismissing it as “not too bad” all too easily. Even while watching their lower halves transform into slimy, glistening, slug-like tails. Curiously, their bodies are seemingly plastic, with their land forms having no genitalia and are smooth as “Barbie dolls”. Despite this – and the uncomfortably overlooked factor that they appear to be underage – they are immediately sexualised by the nightclub owner and other patrons. Like a mere lure, they cannot really act upon their carnal desires normally because they lack the right physical form – I am reminded of the equally Barbie-like alien in Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013),5 who is also sexualised beyond her control. The mermaids are forever wet and naked, at first innocently and then deliberately, once they become aware of the power of their sexualities over men. Thus, they become the stars of their own strip-performance act, “The Lure”. Their sexual exploitation happens quickly and dangerously; their world is no longer as wide as the open sea but confined by the unseen chains of the men who rule them. Still, like alien children, they curiously and sincerely try to interact as people – adults – with the loud and chaotic world of people.

It is Silver who makes a fateful mistake after she falls for the boyish, blond-haired bandmate Mietek (Jakub Gierszał). At first, Mietek appears to reciprocate her affections until he tells her that he cannot see her as a person, only a fish, an animal. Like the fairytale prince, he is unworthy of her heart, but she innocently continues to pursue him, only becoming more desperate. Meanwhile, Golden begins to revel in her newfound power over men, seducing a man and then ripping his heart out before sliding into the water like a large snake. Again, we are reminded of the mermaids’ physical power – the men may be master manipulators, but they are no true match for the sisters.

Golden meets another band member, Triton (Marcin Kowalczyk), also an oceanic visitor, who warns her that if her sister gives up her legs, she will also lose her voice (and thus, they will not be able to sing together at the club). More concerningly, if her lover marries another, she will disintegrate into sea foam the next morning. Despite her sister’s warning, Silver undergoes a strangely stylised surgical operation in which her lower half is sawed off and replaced with a “real pussy and legs”. Her song is cut off, but she smiles at being a little closer to a woman. Afterwards, she tries to have sex with Mietek, but he is disgusted by the blood from her surgical wounds. He will never be accepting of her body, and she cannot be enough for him.

It is notable that there is only one truly erotic moment in this film. When Golden is stalked by, only then, to seduce a female cop (Katarzyna Herman), their resulting encounter is much more satisfying than anything the men can offer. There is a mutual acceptance between them of their bodies and an equal danger – Golden bares her teeth, and the cop presses a gun to her head. They indulge in each other freely, and unlike the men, this woman is not afraid to caress her lover’s slimy tail. This hopeful connection is but a brief respite, for we soon cut the bleak, prophesied reality of Mietek meeting and falling for another woman. The sisters watch their wedding party play out – Golden, reproachfully, and Silver with an inexplicable gleam of love and admiration still sparkling in her eyes. As Silver silently dances with her love, her sister desperately urges her to kill him. But we know she will not, and as the dawn breaks, she dissolves into foam in his arms. Golden lets forth a scream at such undeserving sacrifice, and slaughters Mietek herself before running into the ocean. There is a lingering shot of her standing half-submerged, with nothing but pain and heartbreak written on her face. 

The Lure is a coming-of-age, fantasy fable: horrific and seductive. The changes in the girls’ bodies, their yearning for love and womanhood, mimic a puberty-esque right-of-passage. Unfortunately, only one survives, as young girls are often wrongfully ensnared by the promises of pathetic men. This may be a story about legendary water maidens, but their fumbles, learnings, and woeful destruction, are as real as anything. 

The Lure (Córki dancingu, 2015, Poland, 92 mins) 

Prod Co: WFDiF, Telewizja Polska S.A., Platige Films Prod: Włodzimierz Niderhaus Dir: Agnieszka Smoczyńska Scr: Robert Bolesto Phot: Jakub Kijowski Ed: Jarosław Kamiński Mus: Barbara Wrońska, Zuzanna Wrońska, Marcin Macuk 

Cast: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszańska, Kinga Preis, Jakub Gierszał, Zygmunt Malanowicz, Katarzyna Herman, Marcin Kowalczyk


  1. Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid. New York: Harper & Row, 1971 (originally 1837).
  2. Homer. The Odyssey. London: New York: W. Heinemann; G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1919. (originally c. 8th century BCE).
  3. Yvette Wojciechowski, Off the Hook: The Making of ‘The Lure’. Produced by Kate Elmore, 2017.
  4. ibid.
  5. Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin. Produced by James Wilson and Nick Wechsler, 2013.

About The Author

Faith Everard is an independent film scholar and former radio producer from Melbourne. She has a deep passion for cinema old and new.

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