Horror and romance are not the likeliest of bedfellows, but that’s the dance we’re treated to in Spring, the new monster romance from writer/directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (V/H/S: Viral). Spring is a film that will be called “genre-bending” by the more buzzword-happy of the film intelligentsia, but that’s not exactly accurate and, in a way, it undersells the intelligence of what the film is doing. Benson and Moorhead have crafted one of the first truly unique boy-meets-girl films in years, and they’ve done so by overlaying moments of cliché with unexpected depth and dread.
Lou Taylor Pucci (Evil Dead) stars as Evan, a young man who’s been left adrift after his mother’s death. Angry and directionless, he decides a change of scenery might do him some good, and travels to Italy on a whim. His journeys take him to a small coastal town where he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a beautiful young student doing research on genealogy. Louise is all too eager for a “no strings attached” fling, but Evan’s looking for something more. What he finds is not just complicated – it’s potentially deadly.
What’s remarkable about Spring is that the film isn’t just looking to alternate between shocking you and warming your heart. This isn’t a film that merely oscillates between horror and romance; in fact, there’s very little scaring going on, at least in the traditional sense. Most of Spring plays out like any one of a multitude of American-abroad-in-Europe romance films, and is particularly reminiscent of the 1995 film Before Sunrise, riffing on love-at-first-sight and road-tripping elements. That’s not to say that Spring is derivative in any way, it’s just more interested in investigating its characters than it is in scaring its audience.
The less said about the more monstrous side of Spring, and of Louise, the better. Benson and Moorhead’s first film, Resolution, which combined drug intervention with UFO culture, proved their ability to use elements of horror to add shading in a larger story. Their latest film continues and expands upon this idea in ways that are subtle but incredibly effective. In keeping with the film’s focus on its characters, the Lovecraftian pseudo-science is kept to a minimum. This is probably for the best, as it lets the filmmakers keep their focus where it should be.
Lou Taylor Pucci puts in his best performance to date as Evan, a deeply empathetic leading man with vulnerability that few films are brave enough to accentuate. He carries the film, but does so with a quiet gravitas that makes him a young star worth watching. Louise might not be the role that catapults Nadia Hilker into the American consciousness, but it should be – it’s a risky and remarkable performance. The German actress achieves a balance that manages to be both unnerving and alluring.
The Verdict: 4 out of 5
Moorhead and Benson continue to be directors worth watching. Spring is a work of surprising beauty in the face of dread. It’s a rare film whose sci-fi elements become an integral part of the character’s emotional journey, not just a mere distraction. Louise’s condition has a unique quirk that provides something of a ticking clock to their relationship, providing a sense of urgency that’s both organic and unique to Spring’s particular sensibilities. It’s a remarkably clever script that balances humor, heartache, and longing from its stark beginning to the film’s fantastic final scene. Spring isn’t a film for horror fans alone. It’s a compelling romance with ambitions that elevate it beyond the scope of a single genre. I hope we start to see more films like it.