“I gotta make sure you’re the kind of crazy I can deal with,” says Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) upon first speaking to Louise (Nadia Hilker) in the remote Italian setting of independent horror film Spring. Evan’s limited perspective into the female psyche aside, his need for credentials is understandable. He is an American, overseas alone and for the first time, and this beautiful stranger has given him an ultimatum: stroll through the dark alleyways to my apartment and sleep with me now – or miss your chance entirely.
Reviewers of Spring have made much of its hybrid quality. The comparison that has gained the most traction is “Linklater with a monster-movie twist.” Made by filmmaking team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, it is a followup to 2012‘s Resolution, which similarly attempted to build horror out of a low-budget character and relationship study. Although that film garnered them indie-horror cachet, in Spring the genre elements feel like a hook placed on top of a drama strong enough to stand on its own.
Evan, a young Californian, spends the opening sequence watching his mother die of cancer. We have only her final words as evidence of Evan’s family culture. If you are wondering what to expect from him, consider that in these last moments his mother offers him only a tasteless joke. After the funeral, Evan’s closest friends get him good and drunk and advise he fish around in his iPhone for a sympathy fuck.
Evan is a product of the world that surrounds him. His greatest attraction as a character is his inability to escape these modes of communication and process his grief. We know that he feels something for the loss of his mother, but he is choked by an uncritical approach to life and a preference for lowbrow humor over sincerity. After a bar fight, Evan departs for Italy to avoid retribution. This is the perfect journey for a character like Evan, and Benson’s account of an American abroad is well-observed.
Evan first links up with a pair of travelers from the United Kingdom. They are loads of fun, but insensitive and crass. When he stays in a coastal town instead of continuing on with them, we can sense that he hopes for a gentler brush with Europe. And yet, when Evan meets the German, Louise, he is inescapably American. While in a museum she loves, he refers to fertility art as “Roman porn.” The film becomes a drama of miscommunication. Where, within these international perspectives and his own constricting heritage, can Evan express his mourning?
Prolonged experiences of cultural alienation often lead to holiday romances. They are what make these romances vivid and shallow at the same time. As they continue to date, their affair is intercut with scenes of Louise transforming into an unknown monster. When Louise’s secret is eventually revealed, Evan exclaims, “This is the kind of crazy I can’t deal with.” It seems that the potential dangers of romancing with a complete stranger could have been the source of successful, grounded horror here. Instead, the writers spend the rest of the film quickly explaining the mechanics of the monster. The viewer is left hoping they’d take a critical eye at their affair and return to the indie drama beneath the horror film.
Review By: Benjamin Kabialis