A young man in a personal tailspin flees the US to Italy, where he sparks up a romance with a woman harboring a dark, primordial secret.
I hate to admit this, but I have to cop to the fact that I’m sort of jaded as far as horror films go. Don’t get me wrong, there are few things on earth I enjoy more than watching a good one, I even love watching the bad ones. But I’ve literally seen thousands of horror films during my time on this big blue marble, and it ain’t like there’s much variation to them anymore. Lately there have been some interesting takes on familiar themes in some pretty good films though. The Babadook is a fine example of that, as is It Follows – two films that present familiar scenarios, but subvert them and deftly blend metaphors into their stories. But while I enjoyed both of these films, I found neither of them very frightening, actually I didn’t find them frightening at all. Entertaining? Yes. Scary? Hell to the no. I guess the reason I started out this review like that is because the film I’m talking about, Spring, fits into that same category. It takes something familiar (A love story), and every so slightly subverts it by making one of the lovers a hideous beast. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking that’s been done before – and you’d be correct. But Spring is different because it chooses to focus on the relationship between its two star crossed lovers. It’s not scary, but then again I don’t think it’s meant to be, the horrific aspects of it are nearly circumstantial. There isn’t a rampaging monster making its presence felt every 10 minutes. There isn’t a final scene with the monstrous half of the lovers dying in the others arms. But there is a lovely story about how two people meet, how they fall in love, and how they learn to accept each other – warts and all.
And one of them has a whole bunch of warts.
Lou Taylor Pucci plays Evan, a young man who, as the film opens, loses his mother to cancer. After the funeral, he goes to drown away his sorrows at a nearby bar with his best friend, Tommy (Jeremy Gardner). One thing leads to another, and Evan ends up in a brawl with a mouthy punk, but rather than stick around to get into more trouble (promising revenge, the punk follows him home to find out exactly where he lives) – Evan just decides to pack a small bag and go away. He ends up in Europe, but initially finds himself pretty much in the exact same situation he was so anxious to get away from – drinking in a succession of bars with a couple of good natured, but knuckle headed Brits. Eventually the trio take a trip to the coast, but Evan sights a beautiful young lady named Louise (Nadia Hilker), and demurs when the others want to continue on to Holland. He’s smitten by Louise and wants to stay where she is – at least for awhile. As is typical for this kind of story, Louise plays hard to get with Evan. She’s actually fairly dismissive of him after their first meeting (where he mistook her for a prostitute), but the more she says “No” to him, the more determined he becomes in getting together with her. After a lot of back and forth between them, she decides to go out with him, but expressly on her terms. She makes him no promises, and informs him that she has no intention of letting the relationship be anything more than something for her to do for a short while.
Evan takes a job as a farmhand on a olive farm, so as to have someplace to sleep and a reason to stay close to where Louise is, and he slowly begins to win her over with his insistence. While the word “Insistence” might make you believe that he’s annoying, he isn’t. He’s actually a genuinely good person who just happens to fall in love with a very mercurial young lady. Louise is beautiful, but odd – very odd. She’s prone to massive mood swings, going from warm and loving to cold and heartless in a heartbeat, all without provocation or warning. Poor Evan has no idea what to make of her, but he does know that he’s falling head over heels in love with her. And he knows that despite her strange proclivities, she’s slowly falling in love with him as well. But what exactly is wrong with her?
Unfortunately, I can’t say much more than that. To divulge Louise’s secret would be a spoiler of the highest order, and I don’t do spoilers (I try not to anyway). But going into this, you already know that there’s something monstrous about her – you just won’t know what for awhile. I can safely say that she isn’t a vampire, werewolf, alien or anything of the like. What makes Spring unique is the nature of what she is, and how she ended up this way. At first, I was thinking along the lines of one of the better films from last year called Affliction, and while there are some superficial similarities, Spring goes about its business in a completely different manner. It’s dialog heavy, with the script taking pains to really allow the audience to get to know Evan and Louise. And as the film progresses, I found myself really caring about how the two of them would end up, so much so that I forgot I was watching a horror film.
Written by Justin Benson, and directed by Benson & Aaron Moorhead, Spring is a lovely, allegorical character study in which one of the two main characters hides a hideous secret. It takes its sweet time in revealing that secret though, showing it to us in quick “Blink and you’ll miss it” shots that progressively get longer and more graphic until the big reveal. But that reveal happens at the midway point of the film, not at the end of it. And then the film leans more towards its romantic side, rather than its horrific one. But that doesn’t hinder it in the least, as a matter of fact, as the film continued, I was becoming more curious about where the relationship would end up. As someone who isn’t a big fan of cinematic romance, this is pretty remarkable for me to admit.
The makeup work is superlative yet subtle (Except for one pretty disturbing, but fleeting image), and it never feels like its going to overwhelm the film in any way whatsoever. The two leads lend a wonderfully organic vibe to the proceedings, and give very nuanced, yet purposeful performances. Directors Benson & Moorhead allow the film to unveil itself slowly, but never allow the slow pace to become boring or feel rote. Benson’s script is essentially a mashup of a Richard Linklater film with a dollop of Lovecraft tossed into it, and as wacky as that might sound – it’s ultimately beautiful and works perfectly within the confines Benson establishes early on in the film.
Spring is one hell of a great film. One of the best films I’ve seen this year actually. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you miss it. It’s a wonderful, near lyrical romance with great performances that just happens to be between a regular guy and an undying monster.
What (good) film can you think of that can say the same?
Spring – 4.5 out of 5 Shrouds.