Spring (2014, dir. Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson)
I began the filming expecting one thing but ended up delighted and surprised with what I got. Evan’s mother dies in front of him, succumbing to a two-year battle with cancer. He feels lost and without purpose, so this leads to a spontaneous trip to Italy, the place his parents wanted to take him before they died. Evan wanders to a small town on the coast where he meets Louise, a young student. The two click right away but there is something mysterious about her, for all her charm and wit she remains cagey about certain parts of her life.
I remember seeing the trailer for Spring before its release and got the sense it would be a dark, horror film. However, it ends up becoming a romance story without any traces of cynicism. It is a dark film, but there is an emotional truth underneath the surface. Early in the first act, after Evan first arrives in Italy there is a sense of Eli Roth’s horrid Hostel films, that creeping sense of dread. We worry Evan is winding his way down into a trap. The filmmakers establish a very gloomy mood. However, I find the film has more in common with Linklater’s Before Sunset. It ends up being lots of conversations about relationships and the nature of love between Evan and Louise. Yes, there is gore and violence, but it never overtakes the film and become the focus. Instead, character work is the meat, with violence punctuating dramatic moments.
Spring is a gorgeous looking film. Directors Moorhead and Benson previously worked on Resolution, a small indie horror flick that did similar genre play. It’s very clear they have developed their technique with some truly beautiful and well-choreographed shots. There is an explosive argument in the streets of the small village after Evan discovers Louise’s secret. It is a single take, but it is a dizzying race through the back alleys and narrow streets. They also make use of drones to produce some stunning, sweeping shots of the coastal town that stand up to an expensive crane and helicopter shots.
The bulk of the film rests on the shoulders of the two lead actors, Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker. I have never been overly impressed by Pucci. I’d seen him in his early work (Thumbsucker, The Chumscrubber, Southland Tales) and felt he was fairly flat and have noticed him popping up from time to time. Here he reaches depths in his character I wasn’t expecting. Hilker was a discovery for me and is a perfect match for Pucci. You get caught up in the chemistry these two genuinely have. That chemistry, more than the horror elements, is what makes the film. While Spring is a definite play on genres, it teaches a valuable lesson that horror is stronger when it relies on the more human and character-focused elements of storytelling.
Spring is a film that benefits from mystery. I would highly encourage you to read as little about it as possible and just know that it’s a movie that is body horror, but also something more. It’s a film about a young man working past grief and aimlessness and the risk of love. Its whole concept is a metaphor about what we give up when we allow ourselves to fall in love, and weighing if that is worth the risk.