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Exclusive Interview: Director Agnieszka Smoczynska on the allure of “THE LURE”

Wednesday, February 8, 2017 | Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

Currently playing in New York City and heading to more cities in the coming weeks (see schedule below), THE LURE is one of the most unique and striking genre films of recent years, and an impressive debut for its director, Agnieszka Smoczynska. RUE MORGUE landed an exclusive interview with the Polish filmmaker about her colorful genre-blender.

Scripted by Robert Bolesto, THE LURE stars Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska as Silver and Golden, two singing mermaid sisters who arise from the deep, attracted by the music of a band playing on the beach. Sprouting legs on land, they become performers at an exotic nightclub, and Silver falls in love with the band’s bass player—though the humans around them are unaware of the girls’ cannibalistic natures. Melding song numbers, romance, gruesome gore and dark humor, THE LURE is a truly ambitious, very confident first feature (see our review here). Released by Janus Films, it opens next in the following cities: Minneapolis, MN (today); Dallas, TX and Phoenix, AZ (February 10); San Francisco, CA and Portland, OR (February 17); Yonkers, NY, Lubbock, TX and El Paso, TX (February 24); Los Angeles, CA and Ithaca, NY (March 3); Tucson, AZ (March 10); Cleveland, OH (April 13); and Columbus, OH (April 27). Smoczynska tells us where it came from and how it was done…

THE LURE takes inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”; did you draw from any other folklore?

Yes, we were inspired also by Homer’s mermaids [in THE ODYSSEY]—the sirens that devour people. It was very important for us to tell a story about a mermaid [Silver] who is not only a sweet girl, but also preys on human beings. Our ambition was to create a new legend, so we took from Homer that they eat flesh, and we took from Anderson that she loses her voice and falls in love with a man.

And the look of the mermaids is not from Disney; we took inspiration from the paintings of the 15th century. I asked a Polish artist named Aleksandra Waliszewska to paint a mermaid for us, and she came up with these creatures with long, ugly fish tails, covered with slime, so you can see that she is half beautiful girl and half a creature. Another important element for us was that when they are human beings, they don’t have genitals, so they don’t have a sex. The goal of our mermaid is to achieve that sex, to be a girl. Silver wants to consummate her love with her boyfriend, and it’s like when you are a girl, before you become mature, you want to have sex with a boy because you want to become a woman. So we wanted to create a mermaid as a metaphor for a girl growing up.

Have you always had a fascination with mermaid legends?

As a young girl, yes, though it wasn’t an obsession or anything like that. When I was growing up, I would hear fairy tales, and “The Little Mermaid” was one of the saddest ones. I think it is, again, a great metaphor for becoming a woman.

THE LURE’s makeup effects are excellent. Is there a significant special effects industry in Poland?

No, there’s no effects industry. There’s one company, Platige Image, who are very good and work on U.S. productions, and for me it was important to work with them, and they became our co-producers. Jakub Knapik was the supervisor of the special effects, and he told us to prepare some practical models of the fish tails. The first one was a short, normal, sexy tail, and we thought it would look like that. Then, one of the musicians who were working with us said, “OK, Aga, you want us to push boundaries with the music, but you’re not pushing boundaries in your thinking with the fish tails. You should do something new.” So I decided to base them on the paintings by Aleksandra Waliszewska. We built these huge tails that were almost 7 feet long, and very heavy, that the girls had to wear. I asked the choreographer to work with the actresses on how to move in them, because it was important to make people believe in those tails. Some of the scenes, of course, use CG effects; those were also done by Platige Image, and they’re fantastic.

And on top of all that, THE LURE is a musical. What were your inspirations behind that side of it?

Well, first, you have to know that in Poland there are no musicals. So we were inspired by Bob Fosse’s ALL THAT JAZZ and CABARET, and DANCER IN THE DARK by Lars von Trier. Also, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW; however, the tone may be similar but the visual side is completely different. Also an inspiration were the video clips by Björk.

I also saw a bit of Ken Russell in there; were his films an influence?

No, I don’t really think so. But PONYO, the animated film, though it’s not a musical, was one of the more important inspirations.

There’s a great deal of nudity in the film, and a very casual attitude toward it. That’s common in European movies, but not so much in American productions. How did you approach that?

It was very important to show their breasts; we didn’t want to have, you know, the bra made of seashells. We wanted to just forget about the Disney version, and make a genre tale for adults. And if it’s for adults, you have to make them naked. For me, the key was to show that the girls are not ashamed through the way they behave when they are naked. We had some rehearsals just to get used to it, because for me it was important that the actresses weren’t self-conscious about doing the nudity. What was really very helpful was the silicon appliances that were put on their genitals [for the sexless look described above].

And I think you’re right, that that is a difference between European films and American films. We watched some U.S. movies with mermaids, and there was always hair covering their breasts, and it felt like nudity is a taboo. I don’t believe that if you are naked in a movie, you have to feel ashamed, or that you’re making an erotic movie.

Did you do a lot of set work, or was the movie shot on all practical locations?

Club Adria was a real location; it’s now closed, but we were allowed to shoot there. Also, we filmed in a real shopping mall, and afterward it was completely demolished. We were very lucky, because they didn’t charge us anything—only one zloty, which is like one American quarter. They let us in to do this musical number, and then they just destroyed it. It was a legendary place in Warsaw, this shopping mall. We also used the Palace of Culture, which is a monument to Communism. We did build one apartment on a stage, for the scene where Michalina is singing in the bath, and she starts to hypnotize the camera and everybody becomes frozen.

How was THE LURE received in Poland?

The premiere was just two days after we finished the film; we were editing up to the last moment. It was at a national festival, and the response was great; then, during the festival, we got the news that Sundance wanted to take us. But when it was released in Poland in December [2015], the distributor didn’t want to reveal that it was about mermaids! The Polish trailer is completely different from the U.S. one, and they asked us not to talk about the mermaids during interviews. They promoted it as a Polish CHICAGO, a Polish musical. The audience was really divided, and many people just walked out of the cinema, because they were told it would be a musical, but not a horror movie! It’s an interesting case study, and journalists really want to know why the way it’s promoted is so different in the U.S. than in Poland.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.
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