Film Reviews

Spring Breakers Harmony Korine

Rating - 8/10

By this point, it would probably be fair to say that Harmony Korine has a reputation based more around archness than artistry. Following on from the precocious success of Kids, his career his been pretty much a downward spiral from the more-interesting-on-paper likes of Gummo, to the unwatchable art-prank Trash Humpers. So to say that expectations were fairly mixed for this Disney-stardom-subverting tale of four college girls gone very wild would be something of an understatement, even/especially after the eye-catchingly shallow publicity campaign.

Considering pretty much all of 2013's most talked-about cinematic output so far has been based around a borderline precarious, even indulgent, mix of trash and quality (cf: the Malick-indebted soap opera of The Place Beyond the Pines; the gripping yet psychologically nonsensical mumbo-jumbo of Side Effects and Trance; the camp farce gone very wrong of In the House), it would be hard to argue with Spring Breakers being very much the trashiest. Right from the gratuitous t&a filled slo-mo opening the film as a viewing experience seems to have as much depth as just watching the trailer forty times on a loop. 

And yet, it's not quite as simple as that. Yes, there really is a stunning amount of nubile young flesh on display but honestly it gets to the point that there's so much of it (of both genders) rubbing together that it goes beyond titillation into an overcrowded Boschian critical mass. Much like Kids, while there is a sexual frankness here, it's not without an element of restraint, indeed, the closest we get to penetration are icky close-ups of bullet-holes; genuine gratification only really comes in a (pleasingly gender-flipped) bit of fellatio, and while our anti-heroines may play at Katy Perry-inspired teasing and faux-lesbianism there's always a clear sense that it's precisely that and nothing more. That angry column inches have been devoted to the arguments about the film endorsing rape culture seems like a very odd turn of events - yes, the girls may spend almost the entire running time in their bikinis, but that doesn't mean that they can't take charge of the situation either (as the brutally bravura scene of their initial crime demonstrates). In fact, if viewed through the prism of the Bechdel test, Spring Breakers might be one of the most feminist-friendly Hollywood films of recent years. Admittedly, that probably says a lot more about what Hollywood thinks of its female audience than anything else, but it is notable that in all the authentically-teenage-rambling of the film's loved-up-and-drugged-up narration, there's more a sense of the characters looking to connect with like-minded people rather than hook-up with guys. 

Much like Drive did with the vigilante-themed action movie (and that film's huge influence is pretty hard to miss, thanks to the titles rendered in magenta Mistral and the hiring of Cliff Martinez on co-scoring duties), Spring Breakers both borrows from and, whether by accident or design, undermines that other staple of the 80s video store; soft-core erotica, thanks to a queasy sense of disconnectedness

That's not the only interesting factor about Spring Breakers' disconnect either. Every key movement in hip-hop has, at least one, defining movie - from Public Enemy's righteous anger feeding into Do the Right Thing to the slickly-rendered working-class angst of (pre-breakdown) Eminem being utilised for 8 Mile - Spring Breakers might well be the latest. As the poster of Lil Wayne that looks down from the girls' dorm room at the start of the movie suggests, there's a sizzurp-imbued unease that permeates the film's every frame. The melancholic treatment of drug-fuelled partying, complete with unsettling percussive jolts (in the form of the gunshot sounds that punctuate odd scenes), as well as the uncanny repetitions of footage throughout the film (most markedly in the closing minutes which serves to call an already shaky narrative - if it can be called that - into question) have surely been inspired by Trap. There's also the internet-generation-friendly indiscriminate borrowings from both high and low pop culture (that James Franco-does-Britney Spears scene really is quite something) and the remnants of irony-steeped memes like Seapunk and Vaporwave (take the neon balaclavas and tiger-print vests of the girls' henchmen uniforms) to get one's head around too.

Added together, what we're left with is ninety befuddling minutes of glorious, ugly, beautiful, spectacular nothingness, that somehow backs up both those who declaimed the film as worthless exploitation and those who claimed it to be a witty pop-culture deconstruction. Even more mind-bogglingly, it could actually be the first Harmony Korine offering that could genuinely be described as entertaining, which might make it his biggest prank so far.