Spring (2014)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2015-07-22 05:58

Written by: Justin Benson
Directed by: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, and Francesco Carnelutti

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

Love is a monster.

Most love stories couched in a horror aesthetic leave you contemplating just how terrifying and messy it can be to fall for someone. Love might be a collection of chemical impulses, but we still haven’t quite figured it out, much less why it causes us to go haywire. It’s been the source of much teenage (and young adult) angst, which perhaps explains why it’s so often literalized with horror tropes. At a certain age, we always expect our love to manifest into some kind of creature and tear our face off. For a brief moment, Spring hangs on the precipice of indulging those anxieties, as it looks like directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are set to twist a young American man’s romantic fantasy into an absolute nightmare; however, those familiar with the duo’s debut feature Resolution shouldn’t be surprised to learn that they have no intentions of adhering to expectations.

When we first meet Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), he’s something of a disaster: after losing his dad a few months earlier, he’s forced to watch his cancer-stricken mother pass away in her bed. Unable to cope with his grief, he pummels a shit-kicking meth-head in a bar during a fight he didn’t start, loses his job, and can’t even coax a sympathy lay. The situation grows more dire when the cops arrive at his house, prompting him to hop on the first plane to Italy. Upon arrival, his first impulse is to hook up with a couple of crude backpackers set to drinking themselves into oblivion. This feels like the setup for a horror movie where oblivious tourists deservingly wind up on the wrong end of a blowtorch.

But there’s something to Evan, a sort of unassuming sweetness to him that Pucci finds beneath the roughneck exterior. Even as he’s lounging about with potheads and skirt-chasers, his boyish vulnerability hints that he’s just a listless twentysomething hitting a rough patch in life. When he meets a mysterious girl, Louise (Nadia Hilker), whose irresistibly smoky voice and alluring eyes immediately draw him in, you’re relieved that this guy—who could use just one break—has some hope. And then you’re almost immediately bummed out for him when it looks like Louise’s flesh is decaying and she requires violent sustenance—while we’re not quite sure exactly sure about affliction, we watch in horror as she consumes wild animals in the streets.

As he walks back to his place the next morning, Evan glances over his shoulder to see some cops to scraping up the gory remains, a wry moment that seems to foretell his own eventual doom. That’s the story we’re accustomed to with lovelorn horror: ill-fated romances that can never be due to unnatural forces beyond the characters’ control. Spring is not that story. Rather, it’s more akin to Before Sunrise, only it presumes that Richard Linklater’s film could use a little Lovecraftian mythology. Let’s just say Louise isn’t your typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl. In fact, Spring is refreshing in its willingness to subvert across genre tropes; what begins as the story of an aimless man seeking comfort from empty sex shifts to consider the plight of a similarly adrift woman—only Louise has been wandering for much longer, and the melancholy resting behind Hilker’s eyes immediately communicate a vague sense of longing that she must sort out.

If anything, Moorhead and Benson poke fun at Evan’s fantasy, which soon deflates once he realizes what his commitment truly entails. In Evan, the film crafts a lovesick, quick-to-commit guy who believes in love at first sight (or something close to it); it turns out that Louise—despite being a very unrealistic creature—is much more realistic about what commitment really means. Her own fears manifest in a condition that makes her unable to settle down, a sort of on-the-nose metaphor that resonates nonetheless and gives urgency to the film’s final act. Where train schedules determine Jesse and Celine’s one-day tryst, something more sinister—and, perhaps, more finite—hangs over Evan and Louise. Even if their chatter is a bit more ponderous and less natural than Linklater’s seminal couple, you appreciate that Spring never wavers in making this its focus: to the end, it remains committed to two people empathizing with one another and discovering possibilities in love that neither ever anticipated.

Far removed from what was essentially their backyard in Resolution, Moorhead and Benson revel transforming the sprawling Italian vistas into an evocative, multi-genre blend reflecting the bizarre love story at hand. Sun-soaked countrysides and beaches blind one to the shadowy, craggy corners lurking beneath the moonlight, and dreamy, breathtaking slow-motion strolls through plazas eventually cut to blunt, nightmarish discoveries. It’s a place where a kindly Italian farmer (Francesco Carnelutti) takes Evan under his wing to impart wisdom, but it’s also a place where less fortunate (and more boorish) Americans wind up splattered on cobblestone streets at night. A volcano—which may or may not be active—looms in the distance, the ghosts of its previous victims forever preserved in the ashen remains Evan and Louise amble though at one point. In this moment, they witness love and death—the infinite and the finite—captured in an image that reveals the sublime depths Spring reaches in exploring the bewildering spell love can cast.

For Moorhead and Benson, this is almost an exponential leap forward, albeit one that doesn’t betray their mission to upend expectations. Spring is every bit as tricky as Resolution, but it’s not driven the same anarchic desire as that film; here, the duo is much more invested in their characters rather than having them serve as a means to an end. Evan and Louise aren’t just cyphers for pseudo-philosophical ramblings—they are well-realized, lived-in characters whose uncertain fate defines a third act that strolls to its conclusion with conversation and fine wine in hand. In an audacious move, this repressed creature feature becomes a lovely little hangout movie where the gruesome effects are secondary to the chatty musings of a couple looking to uncover the mysteries of life and love.

There’s something unsettling about the film’s insistence that it might not be possible to do this even with two millennia to figure it out, but it’s equally comforting in its assurance that the company of others is solace in itself.

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