Spring. 2014. Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead.
Starring Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker. XYZ Films.
★★★★★I try not to go into most, if any, films with a bias – whether that be concerning the subjects and themes of the film, or the filmmakers/actors involved. However, sometimes it’s really tough. Spring is one such movie. I’m a big fan of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead ever since I first saw their excellent, not run of the mill feature Resolution. I also personally loved their part in the latest V/H/S: Viral, even if the consensus on the third installment of the trilogy isn’t exactly raving love.
So naturally, the minute I first heard about Spring, I was pumped. Let’s just say, I was not disappointed in the slightest.
The film’s plot really intrigued me because I love when a story shifts gears tonally. At first, Spring is the tale of Evan whose mother just died, and on the night of her funeral he gets into a bad fight at the bar; this springboards a little, as trouble seems to rear its head after the man Evan beats up discovers where he lives. All of a sudden Evan decides it best to get away from everything, so he takes off, literally, ending up in Italy. There, Evan meets a mysterious young woman named Louise. The both of them engage in a weird little relationship, as two people who seem to be trying to escape something or other. Evan starts to wonder exactly why it is he can only see Louise at night. Other events begin to unfold, and Evan discovers the Italian woman of his dreams may be more akin to the woman of his nightmares.One thing I love is the H.P. Lovecraft feel happening in Spring. It’s being mentioned a lot in reviews, but it is definitely hard to deny. Mainly, there is a sense of dread which starts to build especially once Evan reaches Italy. First, he sees the carcass of an animal with a snake slithering up through its jaw bone and out the mouth. Then, a viscous looking glob appears on some trees around the farm where he finds work while on his trip. There’s another simple shot of Evan working on the farm, and in the foreground we can see, as well as most importantly hear, some insects wriggling around and moving in the dirt. I find this sense of unease Benson and Moorehead continually build really helps make things feel creepy without resorting to full-on creepiness.
Furthermore, I also dig the bit where Evan asks Louise about which languages she knows; a comment about Sumerian, dead languages. Most certainly a Lovecraft reference. This worked well. An excellent follow-up scene comes later: Louise appears to be drawing out symbols from an old book. I can picture something similar to this coming from a scene in a Lovecraft story. Really great work.
Along with the shift in tone, Benson and Moorehead gradually bring horror into the picture. We get those creepy, crawly insect shots. Then there’s an increasing sense of coming to know who, or what, Louise really is – intense, nasty little moments where we see her alone, attempting to escape whatever it is which plagues her. This really first comes to a head in the same scene where Louise is drawing out the symbols on a wall. There’s a terrific animal moment, maybe not good for those squeamish about such things, which is filmed beautifully, and plays out in decadent horror style. Benson and Moorehead build the tension really well, then once the switch to full-on horror comes things get increasingly more interesting to watch.
Moreover, setting this film in Italy really adds to the excellent switch in tone because we’re spending these elaborate moments lost in scenes with beautiful imagery; not only the camerawork itself, the scenery of Italy is incredibly gorgeous. The beauty of this setting really adds to a savage punch once the horror elements really start kicking. Great, great choice of location. They could have made this film anywhere, truly. Setting it in Italy involving an American foreigner in the character of Evan adds something untouchable to Spring.The transformation scene in this film is one of the best I’ve seen – ever. There is absolutely nothing which compares to it in anything else modern, except for the wonderful werewolf transformation in Late Phases. It horrified me, simultaneously keeping me wildly fascinated. The scene following is expertly eerie, too. Mainly it’s the shock of seeing the transformation in the way we do, throws you off along with Pucci’s character. After the transformation we get a bit of exposition; it stops at being too elaborate, heavy handed. There’s even a really great moment of comedy with Pucci on the telephone heping us level out before everything gets even weirder. Things really spiral into darkness from this moment on, but not really in the way you might think.
The lead up to the transformation is spectacular. We do get traces of the monster yet nothing too much. Finally, once we do see the thing, the plot really churns out the goods until the finale.
Congrats, big time, to Benson, Moorehead, and whoever created this gorgeous monstrosity! This creature will go down in the Horror Hall of Fame. Plus, the creature design has elements of The Thing, Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, and yet feels originally disgusting in its own right.
Overall, this film feels perfect. Although it does work on a purely straight level of being a romantic horror, Spring works wonderfully as a metaphor for the monstrosity of love in its many forms. Especially considering the setup we often see in other movies where a guy or girl takes off somewhere, falls in love, yadda yadda yadda.
Here, Benson and Moorehead use this familiar premise to turn Spring into something vastly different than anything else you could even consider close to the same type as this movie. These guys are a great team. They know horror, and they’ve also got an idea of where to take horror from here. Regardless of how you felt about Resolution there is no denying it isn’t the same, typical trash people are churning out in independently funded droves. Spring is definitely their best work so far, they’re continuing on in great directions. They aren’t coming out with tired stories that have been done to death.
I can’t wait for more from them; apparently there is an Aleister Crowley project in the works, according to some of the pictures and tweets from both Benson and Moorehead’s account on Twitter awhile back. I’d love that to become a reality. These guys are good, so check out Spring – a healthy dose of romance, some weird science fiction, and a fascinating Lovecraft influence felt throughout the film’s running time.
Just to add – the ending was phenomenal. Could’ve ended in a much different way, but this finished on a beautiful, subtle note.