Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti. Runtime: 1h 49 min. Released: March 20, 2015 (online).
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s second feature film is a foray into romance while still maintaining their horror roots. The film opens on Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) as his life is falling apart – his mom has just died and after getting into a bar fight, he flees from the United States to Italy to avoid criminal charges. There, he meets the beautiful Louise (Nadia Hilker) who is harboring a deep secret.
Spring is best experienced knowing as little about it as possible, so I’ll try not to spoil anything other than the basics. The romance between Evan and Louise is sweet and well-written in itself because of screenwriter Justin Benson’s (who also co-directs) dialogue. There’s a naturalistic feel to it so it’s on the edge of being categorized as a mumblecore film but it doesn’t quite get there. The natural dialogue and performances – and Pucci and Hilker are really highlights here – make it feel that way.
As does the director’s visual style which uses a lot of colour, and the camerawork feels so natural it’s like a character capturing the action. Co-director Aaron Moorhead also serves as the cinematographer here (as he has on all of their features, as well as their segment in V/H/S Viral) and the look of the film is unique. Though, it’s still a taste I’m acquiring after having seen two of their films.
Some of the colorization looks ugly, mostly at the beginning of the film in the United States – it could be done on purpose for symbolism as Evan has lost everyone in his family and the scenes in the States just “feel” cold and the colors are more lively in Italy – and during a car scene near the end of the film.
The other film of theirs I watched was The Endless, a film about two brothers (played by Benson and Moorhead) who visit a UFO death cult they were involved with as teenagers. The film’s concept was interesting but I didn’t think the pacing was great. For Spring, the pacing is slow here, too, but I was intrigued by the concept throughout and it became enjoyable for me when Evan met Louise.
Evan’s a good character, but Louise is just fascinating. It’s good for pacing that the filmmakers show us that there is something wrong with Louise after their first night together. It seems like they show the surprise a bit early but there are so many layers to this film, in terms of its Lovecraftian horror and mythos, that Moorhead and Benson have many surprises up their sleeve.
For the storytelling it worked best because it’s intriguing and mysterious throughout. In terms of horror, it’ll stick with me because it’s just creepy and the body horror is outstanding. What they do with the makeup and practical effects is great. The mythos of the third act as we learn more about Louise is captivating – if somewhat confusing – and the film subverted my expectations throughout because it’s so unique in its themes and writing. Just when you think you’ve figured the film out, Benson says “Ah, nope, we’re going in a different direction.”
It’s an atmospheric film that does its horror well but also does its characters well. The romance scenes are sweet and the dialogue flows well, and there are also a lot of funny moments. A pair of backpackers, Tom (Nick Nevern) and Sam (Jonathan Silvestri) are entertaining. Tom introduces Sam as a Welsh man who f#*ks sheep. “I’m not Welsh,” Sam says.
I ended up enjoying Spring and I’m glad it became strong when Evan landed in Italy. The first 15 minutes of the film were a bit dull and made it seem like it would have a lot of style but little substance, and while I love horror, I hate style-over-substance. There is a lot of style here –some style scenes feel empty – but it has more than enough substance to match the style. There are parts of the film for pacing that could have been cut. Evan’s friendship with his landlord Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti) works as a subplot and there are some charming scenes, but there are also scenes that don’t go anywhere. That’s a minor nitpick as Benson’s writing is strong.
Benson and Moorhead are fascinating voices in horror because of the way they blend genre, whether it’s romance and a bit of science fiction in Spring, or just straight-up science fiction in The Endless. And even if I don’t love The Endless that much, it’s still a fascinating concept with a lot to say. I don’t love their visual style yet, but I’ll keep my eye out for whenever they do next because their films are just, at the very least, great ideas.