Published May 14, 2015For their second feature film effort, the directorial duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (the team behind the under-seen meta-horror gem Resolution) have developed a poignant tale of loss and discovery to play their clever, affectionate brand of genre roulette with. Where Resolution dealt with the tough love of a male friendship through a winking psychological horror about addiction, Spring tackles the often tumultuous dynamic between men and women, and not just in a romantic sense.
Lou Taylor Pucci (Beginners) delivers the performance of his career as Evan, a young man left reeling after the loss of his mother. With no remaining family and the police on his tail after an altercation with a crusty thug at his local bar, Evan takes the advice of his friends to get out of town, randomly choosing Italy as his destination. Once there, he encounters an alluring, mysterious woman (Nadia Hilker) with whom he sparks an off-kilter courtship.
Due to the nature of the film's premise and structure, much more so than its execution, most reviews rush to call Spring the Before Sunrise of horror cinema, and while that's an apt and complimentary assessment, it also sells the narrative a bit short. Like Richard Linklater's celebrated philosophical romance, Justin Benson's story exists primarily as a vessel for ideas he's keen to discuss — in this case, misogynistic presumption, the nature of love, fear of mortality, duality, the pitfalls and perceptions of tourist culture, to name a few topics — rather than as a means to check off plot points along the way to a traditional climax. But, while it's primarily a talky two-hander, Spring places great emphasis on peripheral characters and the Italian landscape in which it takes place, describing distinct characters with minimal screen time and giving the proceedings a surreal, dreamlike quality steeped in history. That quality comes courtesy of Moorehead's fluid cinematography; the exquisite characterization is thanks to Benson's knack for clearly defining familiar personality types.
The Album Leaf's Jimmy Lavalle is also due serious credit for helping to shape the film's tone with a subtle, unobtrusive score that embodies, by turns, the hazy beauty blanketing the experience and the insidious menace lurking beneath the surface. And when the occasion calls for it, Spring doesn't skimp on horrific freakiness. The special effects are well designed and deployed — just don't go in expecting them to eventually take centre stage.
Thoughtful and thought provoking, romantic but tempered by cynicism, creepy but just as often hilarious, Spring is a great alternative to the safe choices of blockbuster cinema and an assured step along the trail of stylistic fusion Benson and Moorehead are capably blazing.