29 Days of Romance, Review #11: Spring (2015)

29 Days of Romance, Review #11: Spring (2015)

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.

Spring article
Nadia Hilker in Spring. (IMDb)

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.

Score: 75/100

Evil Dead (2013)

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Release Date: April 5, 2013

Director: Fede Alvarez

Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas

Runtime: 91 min

Tagline: The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience

Evil Dead might not be the most terrifying film you will ever experience, but it is one of the bloodiest, most exciting and satisfying horror flicks in quite some time.

Five friends go up to a cabin in the woods that has sentimental value, as they’d camp there all the time as tykes. This time, they have a more serious agenda. Mia (Jane Levy) is a heroin addict who plans to beat the addiction. To help her, lifelong friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), who is there to offer support, deem it necessary to keep her at the cabin, so she doesn’t overdose again in the future. Another force soon keeps them at the cabin, when the friends find the Book of Dead (left by witches and father of a possessed girl who was burned alive) and unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. When this evil is unleashed, the friends get possessed one by one until one is left to fight for survival.

Cue the quick-paced plot, chainsaws, gross-out gore, gallons of blood, dismemberment, heroism and total awesomeness. The wickedly amazing good news is: It’s a great remake. It’s also a great individual horror film that stands well on its own two feet (and sometimes, one). It also stands fairly well being inevitably compared to Sam Raimi’s original 1981 cult classic.

This stays faithful to the original, but even when we think we know how this all plays out — there’s an admirable amount of wiggle room for surprise, and amazing plot twists. The original opts for simplicity where the central characters are merely taking a vacation for the shits and giggles, while these guys have a real purpose. They’re leading one of their best friends down a dirt road to sobriety, but litte do they know they’ll be leading her down a road of demonic possession. One thing that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and why this proves sometimes being simple can be better, is… Why choose that one childhood shacky cabin in the woods to help a friend get sober? Why not take her to a more secure friend’s house, a nice four-star hotel in the tropics, or, hmm… A rehabilitation facility?

Some of the decisions of the characters are really rather silly, but that’s expected in this day and age. Some decisions aren’t as silly as some of the characters in the original, like when the gal who was molested by the tree willingly went outside to ask “Who’s there? I heard you!” The way the demons were actually summoned is a very idiotic decision on one of the characters parts. Eric can hardly resist opening up the book because curiosity is just strangling him. Despite the multiple warnings from the book like probably a spell that was designed to give him a nasty paper cut, or actual warnings on the very page he reads a passage from, he still says the coveted words. Eric, if you’re so goddamn curious, just read the Latin in your head. It isn’t the time to practice a foreign language, especially not that of an ancient book with strange writings and demonic rituals in it. Granted, if he doesn’t commit the silly actions he does, none of the happenings of this great modern horror would happen.

This decides to take the terror trail and sometimes treads on some gross-out campiness. Fans of the original might think blood spewing all over the screen is funny (mostly because it’s pleasantly awesome), but others could be grossed out or find it cringe-worthy. The witty demons get some of the laughs, mostly the one in the cellar. It’s also funny when the possessed friends try to convince the unaffected that they’re normal and harmless, and they fall for the conniving demons, hook, line, and sinker. Fan of the original or not, one should not trust any of the effective false senses of security.

This doesn’t mean to be campy, this is a remake and it stands proudly on its own. Some of it is terrifying when the more primary characters’ lives are at stake, or like when one of the gals is being raped by a tree. It’s one of those horror movies that relies both on some effective pop-out scares and a wicked atmosphere. The sound of speeding wind when the camera is rushing through the forest is still very spooky and effective, and it gives a chill to the bone. One thing that is admirable about this is the director’s choice to use practical effects instead of CGI-effects. This rarity is great because this is an age with movies like Life of Pi or even Mama, where the latter’s villain is entirely CGI. The effects that the filmmakers achieve here are endlessly impressive. Fede Alvarez’s decision to use practical effects is a great one, and he seems like a director everyone should keep an eye on.

The characterization is good, where it focuses mainly on the brother-sister dynamic between David and Mia. She feels like David has not been there for her the past few years, and this sometimes anti-hero uses this to her effective advantage throughout the feature.

The petite central cast of five people carry the film well. Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore don’t shine vibrantly, but the real carriers of the film are the other three. Pucci’s good as the brain of the operation, Eric. Fernandez has some scenes where he acts terribly, but he has other scenes where he is able to do a good job of portraying a concerned older brother. Because of this, he evens out to be just kind-of forgettable. Jane Levy gets her chance to shine in every aspect of the word as a sometimes anti-hero, and always an all-around bad-ass. Ash would most definitely approve of her.

In a nutshell: As far as horror remakes go, this is one of the finest in quite some time. This film has cool effects, a woman being sexually assaulted by a tree with a sex drive (try telling that one to a therapist), demonic possession, beatings, stabbings, and the usage of weapons like exacto-knives, nail guns, and, of course, chainsaws. If that all sounds like your idea of a good time, check this out; it’s one of the best 80’s horror films made in the past five years.