Film Reviews

Spring Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Rating - 5/10
The unassuming title of writing and directing team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's Spring is meant to initially disguise its Lovecraftian mutations.  Although critical response has largely favored classifying the film as a farrago of two genre exercises, romance and horror, it is actually more of an idiosyncratic romance that unsuccessfully merges science fiction with black comedy in the sentimental budding of boy-meets-girl with cerebral discussion of anthropology and biology, creating a dichotomy that splits the film between sincerity and irony.  Its visual life is unquestionably bolstered in its rendering of an Italian coastal town where everyman Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) flees after his mother's untimely passing and a violent run-in at a bar with a local Los Angeles tough.  Drifting drone-cam shots over glowing crystal waters and imposingly intricate baroque architecture, paintings, and sculpture complement the exotic evolutionary genetics student, Louise (Nadia Hilker), the soul of the film itself.  Whether on the edges of the frame or front and center, the camera's attentiveness to flora, gastropoda, reptiles, and birds steadily pique curiosity, but Spring's visual vivacity is not thematically fulfilled in coquettish conversation.  Dialogue between Evan and Louise channels a certain improvisatory fluidity through their innate rapport, but it is reduced and contested in its juvenile inclinations and pleonastic explanations, which increasingly play into the misguided stabs at humor through direct imitations or homages of its biggest inspirations, Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995), and more applicably, its spiritual progenitor, Rossellini's Journey to Italy (1954).
Against motif, Spring does not lithely bloom with love's possibility in its solemn and claustrophobic fifteen-minute prologue.  Perhaps the filmmakers thought that visual representation of Evan's mother (Holly Hawkins)'s cancer-caused death would tighten the connection between the aimless protagonist and the audience, but it later proves itself entirely redundant in the emotionally charged dynamic of the core relationship.  Rather than providing an overly expository circumstance, simply situating Evan within the Southern Italian community would have provoked greater intrigue into the psychology and wanderings of his character.  Pucci's limited range as an actor, a bit too complacent as a fish out of water on the international lam, further diffuses the air of mystery.  Nonetheless, in need of companionship, Evan briefly pals around with two young nomadic English hedonists, Tom and Sam (Nick Nevern and Jonathan Silvestri), he greets in a hostel.  Following a momentous Matrix-like slow-mo serendipity with the red-dressed and licentious Louise in the streets of Bari, Evan stumbles upon meager but purposeful work on a small acreage fruit farm overseen by a cryptic father figure Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti), which seems to uncannily lure him back to Louise.  The couple's evening encounters soon become less obsessive and unrequited than complicated by Louise's sudden departures before the dawn that allude to a fatal ailment as victim of a Cronenbergian medical experimentation (see: 1986's The Fly or 1988's Dead Ringers).
Louise's dramatic introduction laudably tempts horror tropes without indulging in visceral violence on-screen.  The multi-dimensional woman's bestial nature is instead contrasted and overwhelmed by her human façade in Evan's presence, and yet doesn't seem altogether believable after the disclosure of her gruesome primordial secret as a self-replicating creature who assimilates DNA of her male partners and sheds her skin every twenty years to achieve biological immortality.  Disregarding its sheer novelty, the revelation compounds the problems of the opening act in its almost condescending outspokenness that admittedly gravitates towards a unique interplay between the actors but deprives the moody film of any true tension.  Trudging waist-deep into the waters of humor and haughtiness in its unorthodox final act, Spring's scenario is drained of its distinctive edginess, devolving into comic book melodrama parody while losing sight of its supposed spiritual tour of ages.  (As Simpsons' Comic Book Guy once amusingly criticized the gilled Aquaman's elopement with a human woman:  "You're from two different worlds!")  Completely self-aware of its quirky meet-cute through a historic sci-fi lens scored with stale ambient flourishes (by Jimmy LaValle and Sigur Rós), Benson and Moorhead's project fails to contain Linklater's signature emotional earnestness and effortless philosophical insight, only earning a half-baked and temporal charm through enduring talk of science, art, and myth dissociated from the premise of the couple's togetherness.  More successful in tone and construct is Leigh Janiak's strangely similar Honeymoon (2014), a twist on the familiar rural romantic getaway-gone-awry that escalates to a genuinely unnerving pitch as Spring conversely falls to the ground predictably like a flower's petals in late autumn instead of bursting with colorful rejuvenation.