Before getting into the actual meat of this festival review, I’d like to provide some context regarding the festival itself, speaking as a regular attendee. With the 2016 instalment being my fifth time at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), I’ve come to notice patterns in the programming over the last couple of years. Sadly, one of them is that one usually can’t trust the quality control of the British films having their world premiere there, bar the odd gem like Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio. More positively, though, is the annual entry in what I will label the “I’m Glad You Exist” category.
What does this category entail? Well, it’s a film — and usually a European one at that — which offers an especially daffy premise and such a mishmash of genres as to make it pretty hard to even classify what it is. As such, these films tend to have a pretty hard time gaining non-festival distribution outside of their respective countries of origin, but they stick with you over the years far more than most of the Britflick landfill you’ll end up gorging on while in Scotland’s capital. You’re glad they exist because at least they’ve gone all in with standing out from virtually everything else around.
You can often work out what a given year’s “I’m Glad You Exist” film will be just from browsing the festival brochure, but it’s obviously a plus when you see the film in question and it’s actually, well, good. For example, EIFF 2015 had Liza, the Fox-Fairy, a fun Hungarian film in which a lonely live-in nurse in 1960s Budapest is friends with the ghost of a late Japanese pop singer that only she can see — a ghost that loves to dance, but also gets insanely jealous of anyone Liza gets close to and subsequently influences various fatal accidents that see Liza become a subject of interest for the police. You know, that old, familiar tale.
So onto 2016, and the year’s “I’m Glad You Exist” film made itself pretty clear in the brochure once again. That said, Agnieszka Smoczynska’s debut feature, The Lure, offers a lot more surprises than the simple synopsis of “Polish musical horror with mermaids” suggests, and that’s a pretty weird gambit already…