Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead gained universal approval with their 2012 debut, Resolution. Serena Whitney of Dread Central gave the picture a perfect score, dubbing it a “remarkable achievement” that “provides the breath of fresh air the genre sorely needs.” An intricately constructed examination of the way horror stories are told, the film is witty and amusing, if a bit amateurish.
Their follow up is even stronger. An affecting love story camouflaged as a down and dirty horror fantasy, Spring skillfully blends the emotional complexity of a Linklater flick with the messy grotesqueries of early Cronenberg.
Really good horror tends to hold a mirror up to society and reflect some ugly part of our existence; they lay bare our hidden fears and anxieties to frightening effect. Spring leans on gore and grue to examine the apprehension of its central characters.
Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), a spirited young American, loses his mother to cancer. Following her funeral, he gets in a fist fight with a man at the bar where he works and is fired. On the advice of friends, he departs his California home for Italy to clear the mental cobwebs. There he meets a mysterious native called Louise (Nadia Hilker).
The image of Evan leaning with sunken eyes against a flat green wall that opens the picture establishes a tone that will carry throughout the movie. Green, which often denotes rebirth and conjures images of flourishing spring foliage, instead draws to mind thoughts of decaying vegetation amid a harsh winter. Its drabness clings to Evan’s body as if infectious, its melancholy spilling across his face. Evan contorts his lips into a false smile and leans in to greet his dying mother. The sequence serves to introduce the film’s themes concerning mortality and other obstacles life puts in our path.
Spring is a very quiet film. The gentle rhythm of footsteps on cobblestone, the hush of the wind and soothing birdsongs condense to stir ideas in the minds of viewers. Music plays a key role in the more horrific sequences, its unnerving use of notes matched with off-putting clicks and scrapes agitate the parts of the brain controlling fear.
When Evan arrives in Italy he visits a bar. Unlike the desolate pub he left behind, the saloon has a more vigorous vibe. Dozens of conversations compete with one another, laughter and smiles dominate the room. Shortly after, Evan bumps into a passerby. Rather than erupting with anger like the patron in the bar in his hometown, the man responds with kindness.
Benson and Moorhead succeed where several horror filmmakers fail by developing relatable characters worthy of our concern before delving into more gruesome territory. The opening act of the film unfolds like a moody expressionist pic concerned more with talk than action.
Moorhead’s camera captures Southern Italy with a texture and compositional beauty that transcends the picture’s meagre budget. The muted brown landscapes and pale green groves of the farms, the mosaics of pitted gray stone that stretch across the ancient city lend a sense of dreariness to the proceedings. It’s a beautiful marriage of romanticisms and realism. In one scene, after sharing their most intimate secrets, Evan and Louise visit an old church. Evan comments, “Fear of the unknown makes a lot of really pretty stuff” while distant candles emit imperfect halos of soft light.
The filmmakers make the most of the ancient city. Like the characters that dwell there, it appears bleak and gloomy around the edges but shelters bold structures and intricate walkways within. High angles of the vast city emphasize the frailty of the meager people walking its streets.
Evan doesn’t go head over heels for Louise immediately, rather he initially falls in lust with her body. Those chocolate brown eyes, her plump, velvety lips and chestnut hair flood him with sexual euphoria. Like King David of Israel in the second book of Samuel who showed feelings for Bathsheba after watching her bathe, Evan isn’t filled with love, he’s experiencing what most guys do when they see a girl nekkid.
Still, it’s not long before Evan realizes Louise is his heart’s desire. Louise though is more reticent. She harbors a dark, primordial secret that keeps her from getting too close to someone. Her social malady is no match for the emotional impact Evan has on her however, and over time, the two fall madly in love. They wander the city and talk openly about their pasts and their plans for the future. With every stolen glance, every light touch and every hopeful kiss, their romance blossoms.
Depicting emotion is a difficult task. To show affection for someone you’ve only just met, to weep for a character because a scene calls for it requires skill. Pucci and Hilker pledge themselves to their roles. The feelings of their hearts shine through their eyes, their passion for one another moves across their lips. Their interplay is what makes the movie work. Their personalities clash at the start—Evan is an awkward romantic, Louise is a sultry sex-bomb—but they are destined to be together. Their relationship blooms as they grow as individuals.
The two complete each other. Without someone with whom to share a warm, personal attachment, Louise felt inhuman, like an alien in her own skin. Her inner feelings manifest via sequences of gorgeously disgusting special effects. Flesh bends and crawls, limbs detach and ooze life fluid.
Spring is frightening because it’s about the crises and milestones we all face in life: birth, maturity, reproduction, death. Its ability to depict the frailty of the human body and spirit, to illustrate the uncertainty and inevitability of death allows it to rise above its brethren. Its title is perfect. Evan and Louise commit to their affair, they liberate themselves from the constraints of their former lives, and are reborn as new beings.
SINCE ITS RELEASE:
Benson and Moorhead contributed their directing talents to Bloody Disgusting’s V/H/S: Viral in 2014 as well as created a pseudo-sequel to Resolution dubbed The Endless in 2017. While the story is quite different, the picture contains characters and locations prominent in the duo’s first flick. Spring did well on the festival circuit where it received praise from horror personalities the likes of Guillermo del Toro. The movie is available on an extras-packed blu-ray from Anchor Bay.