The Lure, a documentary directed by Tomas Leach, follows six people through New Mexico in search of a treasure chest containing $3m, buried by elderly art dealer Forrest Fenn. Fenn has described the location of the chest in a cryptic poem; it’s estimated that 65,000 people have searched for the treasure. For most the search would, I expect, have been no more than a diversion for a few days, but for others it seems to have become a central part of their lives.

The treasure hunters followed are Katya Luce, an urbane woman from Hawaii; Amanda Fry, a policewoman forced to retire due to a hand injury and her companion Pauline Longenbaugh, David Rice, an introspective cowboy and ex-computer programmer from California, Mike Cox, a terminally ill man; and Yellowbird Samora, an artist. The characters are not named until the end credits, and that’s an aspect of what I found frustrating about this film. In the absence of any commentary, the viewer relies on imagination and on the narrative of each of the hunters to construct a back-story – and perhaps they’re not the most reliable people to describe their motives or feelings.

It might be unfair, but while I was watching The Lure I couldn’t help asking – what would Werner Herzog have made of this? In documentaries like Grizzly Man or Encounters at the End of the World concerning the fascination and illusions with which people approach the natural world, Herzog is frank and incisive in his interpretations of the meanings and motives of people drawn to wilderness. By contrast, The Lure is completely observational with no element of interpretation on the part of the filmmakers, and consequently feels superficial. It’s diverting, but seems to lack the nerve to come to any conclusions about the hunters, or about the impulse to find treasure or to escape.The other character in the film is Fenn: Rice, the cowboy, comments at one point that Fenn deals in mythic images, and you wonder – not for the first time – whether there is any treasure. Fenn has constructed what may be a myth, and suggests that the treasure may not be found for 1,000 or 10,000 years, or perhaps never. And, as a throwaway comment, he says that we’re all charlatans to some degree.

The Lure certainly holds the viewer’s attention, largely because of the beauty of the New Mexico landscape and because the hunters are personable and articulate. One of the most striking images is a vertical view from a drone of the land in winter; the smothering of the landscape by a heavy snowfall emphasises the tininess of the treasure, and perhaps Fenn has mischievously drawn attention to a tendency for people to focus on minutiae while there’s vastness around them.

In conclusion, The Lure is interesting and good to look at, but half-hearted. It would have been a far better movie had the filmmakers been bold enough to put more of themselves into it.

★★★

The Lure will be released in UK cinemas on 8 September

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