Film

In 'Spring', Love Means Never Having to Say You're Slimy

Spring asks the vexing question: can love survive weird hybrids?


Spring

Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Cast: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker
Distributor: Cohen Film Collection
Year: 2014
US DVD release date: 2015-06-02

The central story of Spring begins when Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), the kind of beautiful, temperamental, and possibly crazy foreign woman that American boys are always falling for in movies. First, however, the film takes its time getting to that point, with much set-up about the painful life Evan's leaving behind in California: his mom's death, drunken bar fights, a nowhere job, and general malaise, all shot in an intimate, handheld, yet heightened expressive style marked by color filters and delicate lighting effects.

By the time Evan gets to a small coastal town in Italy, where he decides to try farm work after traveling with two loud, drunken, stoned British yobs, Evan's more than ready to reinvent himself by shedding the shell of his former life. Louise is doing basically the same, only much more literally.

It's best to watch Spring without any clue to where it's going, so its developments can surprise us as they overtake Evan. That possibility is pretty much scrapped by the marketing and packaging, which wants you to know from the outset that this is "a monster movie disguised as a love story" (as per one blurb) or "a hybrid of Richard Linklater and H.P. Lovecraft" (as per another). There's even a blurb from Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise) calling it "a beautiful and unique love story".

Okay, so we never know exactly what the word is (this is another original stroke), but there's something mythological going on, something involving scales and fur and tentacles and oozing slime, something grounded in various clues of this fabulous ancient and beautiful setting shot in Apulia (Italy's heel). Those details aren't as important as the cock-eyed determination to find out if love really does conquer all, because Evan is that one in a thousand (or possibly billion in this case) who doesn't want to amscray when things get a little complicated.

Subtextually, Evan flees the dead end of the New World for the simplicity and eternal verity of the Old World and learns it ain't gonna be that simple. However, the jaded and ruined European setting allows him to rediscover his Yankee optimism, which had certainly been lying fallow in the sad, angry, hostile, desperate life of California. However, many will challenge that optimism, for generational responsibilities are a much more fraught issue in Louise's world.

In other words, this movie is an example of what's in it: some kind of weird hybrid. Directors Scott Benson and Aaron Moorhead, with Benson's script and Moorhead's photography, have melded the DNA of disparate genres into a squishy date movie. The idea is sufficiently disorienting, and the style sufficiently sincere in its combination of naturalism and lyricism and brief bloody punctuations, to keep us watching for novelty alone. This movie lets its imagination wander freely, even as it maintains a narrow focus on Evan's experience. It's more evidence of the current invigoration among indie horror filmmakers who can mix bold ideas with technical polish.

Spring is, incidentally, also a paradigm of today's indie distribution platforms. According to Wikipedia, this movie premiered last fall at the Toronto Film Festival, played other festivals (with Pucci named Best Actor at Austin's Fantastic Fest), received a limited distribution in March through Drafthouse Films (apparently grossing a little above nothing) with video-on-demand a day later, and three months later arrives on Blu-ray and DVD. That's a no-nonsense schedule, but it does mean everyone has access if they can only hear about it.

The many extras include a lengthy "making-of" shot on cellphones, the directors' commentary, outtakes of more philosophical discussions by the lovers, facetious jokey bits (including a cynical "alternate ending"), and a segment on Jimmy LaValle's process in creating the piano/electronic score.

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