By Sam Inglis @24fpsUK 24fps.org.uk
The horror genre has always been one for hybrids, both in terms of what it depicts and how it uses generic convention. The thing is, combining two ideas that work in isolation, interesting as the concept may be, doesn’t always lead to a third great thing. That seems to be what has happened with Spring. You have to applaud the daring and originality of the concept; filtering Before Sunrise through a Cronenbergian monster movie is an intriguing idea, but in the hands of writer/co-director Justin Benson and co-director Aaron Moorhead the execution is less satisfying than the concept.
After his mother dies Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), aimless and wanted after a bar fight, decides to use his inheritance and gets on a plane to Italy. There he meets and falls for Louise (Nadia Hilker), but their romance is complicated when it turns out that she is more than the beautiful woman she appears to be.
Spring holds its cards close to its chest for the first hour, not even hinting at the genre of the film it becomes. For a while it simply follows Evan; home from the bar after his mother’s funeral and then to Italy, where he meets two boorish Brits who take him on a booze fuelled road trip. This is all pretty engaging, because it allows us some time to get to know Evan and because Lou Taylor Pucci makes him amusing and enjoyable company. The same can not be said of the Brits, Tom and Sam, who are cliché irritants. That said, this perhaps no bad thing, because by the time Evan meets Louise we’re as ready as he is for things to switch gears, and they do, into a rather endearing, if not unfamiliar, getting to know you romance.
The body horror movie Spring eventually becomes (and if you think that’s a spoiler we need to have a chat about the term Cronenbergian) needs this slow burn approach to work, but it’s a mixed bag. Charming as Evan is and gorgeous and interesting as Louise is, for the third act to work you have to believe that there is deep, deep love between them. I never felt that. You can see a connection between them, both sexual and as people, but that’s different and given the stakes of the ending my lack of belief in the depth of their relationship became a near fatal problem.
On the plus side the performances are strong. Pucci believably charms Nadia Hilker’s Louise and she, even before we know the true scale of things, is someone you can buy into any guy falling pretty hard and fast for. The script in their early scenes together is light and fun (their first meeting, which ends with both of them a little confused, is especially amusing) and you warm to them as a couple. Then, when the film springs its surprise which, besides its echoes of Cronenberg, nods more than a few times in the direction of Zulawski’s Possession it does turn your head and change the direction of the film.
Sadly, the third act never quite delivered on this promise for me. The interplay between Evan and Louise is all too often reduced to Louise expositing at him. Yes, it’s important to establish certain rules, but spending so much time on raw exposition so late on over explains things, saps the film’s momentum, and leads to the very problem that means that the film’s final shot lands, at least for me, with a bit of a thud.
There is much to like here. Benson and Moorehead deliver main characters worth investing in, who both have actual personalities. They steal liberally, but they steal with taste and manage to put a spin on their influences rather than just paying homage. There is some striking imagery here too, especially in the transformation sequences. It’s just a shame that, after holding two seemingly disparate ideas together for an hour they can’t balance them for the last third of the film. That said, Spring remains an interesting and original piece of work and it’s worth checking out. We’ll be seeing Benson and Moorehead again, and I for one will be keeping an eye out for them.