Toronto After Dark 2016: ‘The Lure’ and ‘The Void’

The Lure (DIR. Agnieszka Smoczynska)

Often, a film that has a convoluted plot is trying to hide the fact that it has nothing else going for it.  Thus, it is absolutely understandable if someone were to question whether or not to see a Polish horror-musical about a pair of human-eating mermaid sisters who work in a cabaret show, partially based on the original Hans Christian Andersen version of “The Little Mermaid”.  Thankfully, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s The Lure is that rare breed of film which is unusual and absolutely breathtaking in every way imaginable.

Two sisters named Golden and Silver are discovered swimming in an ocean and singing, which leads to them being brought on board to perform as a cabaret act, where they sing and swim.  The sisters have legs when they are on land, but once they are introduced to water, their legs turn into a tail, one which is more like that of an eel than a traditional mermaid tail.  A large segment of The Lure consists of musical numbers: full of vibrant colours and light, chaotic imagery, and some of the most beautiful singing voices imaginable.  The lyrics are often simplistic, but the film can be enjoyed just as easily without any subtitles at all.

The non-musical segments are just as beautiful and unusual, involving gruesome feedings, ambiguous sexualities and one particular scene involving a cross-species surgery.  The Lure certainly has some feminist elements to it, but for the most part, it is not particularly political.  It’s almost purely visual and auditory, which is exceptionally rare.

The Lure is not usual fare for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival;  it’s more likely to appear in the Vanguard program at TIFF.  As such, it might not be everyone’s cup o’ tea.  However, if you are looking for a beautiful, innovative film unlike anything you have seen before, this may be one to try.


The Void (DIR. Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski)

Astron-6 has made a career out of making films that can be described as “a throwback to *blank*”, which could be a selected genre like giallo in The Editor, or a style like trashy 80s sci-fi in Manborg. Or, even a director like the John Carpenter throwback The Void – visual references to Carpenter, Lucio Fulci and a host of other filmmakers’ aesthetics ensue.

This style of filmmaking always comes with its own issues: the audience needs to be familiar with a style to truly appreciate the project, the referenced films end up acting as religious idols set up to commemorate someone else, and the final products – when successful – come across as art exhibits with little substance in between the stylistic sequences.

During a normal night in a rural town, a group of draped figures with a triangular theme surround a hospital trapping a cop, a group of medical professionals, a criminal and a pair of vigilantes, along with some strange creatures.  The film’s big selling point has been its practical monster and gore effects, and those are indeed elements to watch out for.  In fact, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s film is undoubtably visually fascinating with menacing and gruesome tricks.

The Void is ruined, or at least lessened, by its plot which is a convoluted mess with undercooked characters and very little payoff.  As mentioned, it feels like this film would have been better if it was an experimental short feature or even an interactive exhibition.  As a feature length horror film, however, it is lacking in too many areas to be truly captivating.

It’s time for the Astron-6 crew to develop their ideas into an original feature which is not dependent on an audience’s understanding of a classic style.


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