As folkloric Polish musical sex-comedy horror movies go, “The Lure” is pretty interesting. The first feature directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska, the film follows two mermaid sisters onto land, where they look for love, feast on human flesh and find work singing and stripping at a nightclub that might have come from an early David Lynch movie or a vintage-’80s music video.
As it happens, the club, with its seedy glamour and its muted sparkle, represents a partial concession to realism. Smoczynska shot much of “The Lure” in an abandoned Warsaw cabaret, decorating it to evoke the “dancing restaurants” of the Communist era. An aura of nonspecific nostalgia hangs in the air. We are not exactly in the present and not precisely in the past, but in a dreamy cinematic space where distinctions of genre and tone are pleasantly (and sometimes shockingly) blurred.
Gold (Michalina Olszanska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek) come ashore because one of them is smitten with a hunky unnamed human (Jakub Gierszal). In their natural habitat, the seductive sisters have enormous, slimy tails. Out of water, they temporarily exchange these for legs, becoming anatomically identical to terrestrial women in all respects but one. Below the waist, they are (as the club’s manager puts it) “as smooth as Barbie dolls,” and their lack of genitalia proves to be a source of protection and frustration in their new environment.
The object of mermaid lust plays bass in the house band, whose other members include, on drums (Andrzej Konopka) and lead vocals (Kinga Preis), a middle-aged couple whose relationship offers a quiet rebuke to Silver and Gold’s romantic ideas about humanity. The musical numbers — written by Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska of the Polish band Ballady i Romanse — add a jolt of rock ’n’ roll energy and a swirl of camp decadence to a story that swerves, sometimes smoothly and sometimes jerkily, from parody to fairy tale to gleeful gore.
Holding it all together is an exploration — always intriguing if not always coherent — of the myths and puzzles of female sexuality. While the sirens in “The Lure” exercise and experience an attraction that is sometimes fatal, their adventures are chronicled in a spirit that is more fatalistic than furious. A fish out of water is by definition an absurd figure, and also, potentially, a tragic one.