SPRING Review: Creature Comfort
One of my early assignments for DVD Verdict was to review the Blu-ray for the independent horror film Resolution. The film is impressive, particularly in how it breathes new life into old horror tropes to produce a film-watching experience I wan’t expecting. It’s co-directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, and when it was over, I made a mental note to keep an eye out for the duo’s subsequent projects. I’m glad I made that note; the boys are back and they’re better than before with the wildly ambitious Spring.
Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) has hit a terrible rough spot in his life. His mother has recently passed away and thanks to a wrong place/wrong time bar fight, he loses his job (at the bar) and is wanted by police. With no family tethering him to California, Evan randomly choses Italy as his destination to escape law and life.
It’s in Italy that Evan meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a worldly-wise woman who takes playing hard-to-get to new levels. But Evan, a stranger in a strange land who has nothing to lose, rises to the romantic challenge the exotic beauty presents. As their emotional relationship blossoms, Louise struggles with managing a monstrous secret she has no desire to reveal to Evan, but one that might doom the couple’s future.
I never expected to write the words “great tenderness throughout” when making notes during and after my screening of Spring. This is supposed to be a horror film; there is no room for warm, enveloping tenderness in a horror film.
But that’s the genius of it: it isn’t a horror film – at least, not a conventional horror film.
Most importantly, it’s a love story (and a damn good one). There’s no clever meet-cute here; there aren’t switched bags at customs or some language barrier that finds the boy committing to something he didn’t know about. It basic and organic and works very well: boy sees girl, girl makes eye contact, boy keeps walking (and all with great use of slo-mo and Jimmy Lavalle‘s wonderfully understated score). Fate intervenes, boy sees girl again and this time he talks to her.
(There is a powerful chemistry – like, lighting-in-a-bottle chemistry – between the leads. It’s immediate and intense and sustained and it’s the backbone of the film.)
As she plays hard-to-get and he plays persistent (never desperate), you watch him take two steps towards her for every one she walks away from him, until he finally catches up to her. It’s watching two people fall in love, but not in a way I can recall having seen on film before. Others have compared this to Richard Linklater‘s Before Sunrise, and I get that, especially with the gorgeous European backdrop, but the Pucci/Hilker chemistry is weapons-grade, something I didn’t get from Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy, even though I thought they were great in that.
Woven throughout this love story is a rumination on life, death, and (im)mortality, as well as an examination of spirituality (that doesn’t proselytize).
There is much death in this film, but again, unlike a conventional horror story, it’s mostly tragic as opposed to horrific. Other than Evan’s mother (and an unfortunate American tourist who, trust me, had it coming), all other deaths serve to drive the conversation; they happen in the past and are used to set a tone, not simply frame a moment. Evan’s father years past, and a small child in Italy not that long ago, are two, but a surprisingly key loss is that of the wife of an old man named Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti). Angelo, who gives Evan a place to stay and work, is an old widower who lost his wife too long in the past to remember, but who pines for her to the point of weeping for her at church. Evan is given plenty to ponder with the death that is around him, even in the context of romance and love.
In fact, all of that tragedy builds to how mortality plays in the relationship struggles between Evan and Louise, but to go any further than that would be to spoil it, which is what makes covering the horror aspect of the film a little tricky.
There is definitely a horror element to the film (although some might consider it closer to sci-fi). It is handled marvelously by the co-directors, with enough visual proof to confirm something isn’t quite right about Louise (proof that is exposed a little bit more with every glimpse), but also with enough clever filmmaking to not give anything away until late in the film.
In fact, this is the great blessing that proves to be the film’s minor curse. For as sensational as the screenplay from co-director Benson is – from its themes to its dialogue and from its romance to its darker side, and especially in how it touches on God but dodges becoming That discussion – it gets lost in the science behind Louise’s secret to the point that it takes you out of the magic. I understand the desire to make the story as believable as possible, but a tutorial on genetics, no matter how well written, is still a tutorial on genetics.
Every film should have such a problem, though. Other than that, everything else behind the scenes fires on all cylinders, particularly the great use of sound to replace the hidden visuals, and gorgeous cinematography from co-director Moorhead.
The ending brought me to tears. No kidding.
The genius of Spring is that it’s a horror movie that isn’t a horror movie. It’s a delicate romance and a philosophical drama and yeah, it’s got some horror too, and it all combines to create a wonderfully ambitious film that, like Resolution, breathes new life into an old construct.