After catching Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's debut feature, Resolution, at the Celluloid Screams festival back in 2012 (http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2012/10/celluloid-screams-2012/), I was very interested in what they'd do next. Whilst not perfect, the film was highly original, clever and well produced, so the two filmmakers seemed to be ones to watch in the future. They made an appearance at the festival (possibly just via a recorded message, I can't quite remember) and seemed like a fun and passionate pair too, which made me even more interested. Well, three years down the line, they've released their follow up, Spring, which has been picking up strong word of mouth, so I was delighted to be able to watch a screener, prior to its UK release.
The film begins as a straight up character driven drama, as our protagonist Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) loses his mother not long after the death of his father. He gets into trouble with the law and is fired after beating up a drunken scumbag at the bar where he works. To escape all of these problems he spontaneously jets off to Italy. Whilst spending a few days partying with some loutish Brits, he comes across a beautiful but unusual woman, Louise (Nadia Hilker). He misses his chance with her, but when his companions head off to Amsterdam, he stays put and gets a job at a local farm working for a lonely old man, Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti), who lost his wife in a car accident.
Coming across Louise once more, he manages to convince her to go on a date with him and the two form an intense but unstable relationship together. The two seem to be bonding very well, but Louise acts very strangely, going through extreme mood swings and disappearing from time to time. As the film goes on, you realise she harbours a dark, bizarre secret that could shatter more than just their love.
I must say, I was a little torn by Spring. The bulk of the film is great, but I struggled a bit near the start and felt the end was fumbled too.
The opening scene showing the death of Evan's mother is unsentimentally powerful right off the bat, but it took a while for me to adjust to the banter between Evan, his friends and the English tourists he meets soon afterwards. The dialogue, although quite witty, had that 'smarter than thou' indie feel to it that can rub me up the wrong way and sounded unnatural, particularly from the weaker bit-part actors. I did attune to it though and once the film becomes just about Evan and Louise's relationship (and to a lesser extent, his friendship with Angelo), the writing and delivery is much more effective.
It's in this mid section where the film shines. The chemistry between the leads works a treat and you believe their short but passionate relationship. Also, it's in this portion of the film when Louise's dark secret is slowly unveiled. The audience are let in on it fairly soon, but only in short bursts and nothing is really explained at this stage, making for some sharp pangs of horror here and there and casting a cloud of doom over the central relationship. This is very effective and keeps you engrossed during what effectively is a very slow burn film without much incidence.
However, I felt that they dropped the ball once Evan discovers the truth. Hopefully I'm not giving too much away, but the scene when he walks in to discover Louise's true self is genuinely quite shocking, avoiding a cheesy horror build up and delivering some icky body horror. After this though, I didn't feel Benson and Moorhead handled the final act(s) effectively enough.
The last half an hour of the film purely focuses on the couple trying to decide what to do about Louise's problem, so becomes a philosophical debate rather than a satisfying resolution. Admittedly, it's an interesting predicament and the core themes they hit on are strong and universal, but it turns the film into a bit of a ponderous drag. Also, after only giving us hints and flashes of what is 'wrong' with Louise in the first three quarters, the final portion of the film instead gives us a fair amount of rules and explanations as to the nature of it all. This just becomes cumbersome and confusing, causing the potentially very poignant finale to be unclear (in my eyes at least). I understood the choice that was made, but I didn't quite get how it came about as the 'rules' laid out were hard to follow.
As flawed as I found the film at times, I still admired its daring originality. By mixing horror with Linklater-esque 'hanging out', Spring feels like little else out there, which is rare in this day and age. When it works, the film works beautifully too. It creates a wonderfully hazy, dreamlike tone in the daytime and evenings, then some truly creepy jolts to the system at night. It's just a shame the final act got too bogged down in its ideas.
Nevertheless, I remain interested in the work of the directing duo and would still recommend people check it out. Maybe with lowered expectations on a re-watch I'd rate it higher, but in the meantime I'm going to give it a...
Spring is out on 25th May in the UK on DVD, released by Metrodome. I saw an online screener, so can't comment on the picture/sound quality or any special features.