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Dir. Moorhead & Benson
Spring is the second feature from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, credited collectively as Moorhead & Benson (and I’m always happy to see that, because we don’t have enough directing teams). It’s the follow-up to the clever horror-genre-dissection-addiction-buddy-drama Resolution, one of my favorite films of the last several years, and I’ve been excited to see what they’d do next. Spring, like Resolution, is a intellectual genre film that cares most about its central relationship; it’s also one of those films that probably gave its marketing team a headache, though they ended up with a near-perfect (though a tad spoilery) quote that is featured prominently on their poster: “Linklater meets HP Lovecraft.” The trailer, and the Lovecraft half of that blurb, suggest a horror film, and if not a traditional horror film at least some kind of psychosomatic horror film (like Cat People, a film that this acts as an interesting counterpoint to). But by the end of this film I realized that I, someone who is not a fan of romance films, had been suckered into seeing a surprisingly effective and sweet romance film-and I didn’t mind.
Sure, there are a few horror elements (and the film’s one gratuitously flawed scene is its most horror-ish), but this is at its heart a romance film; albeit one with extreme complications. In the film Evan, our troubled protagonist, has just lost his mother to cancer and after a bar fight is on the run from the police. He takes the first flight to somewhere in Europe and ends up in a small town in Italy where he meets Louise, a mysterious and beautiful woman with a secret. It sounds like a familiar set-up and the film recognizes this, though it walks the fine line between subverting expectations and annoyingly teasing the audience. After playing with the eventual reveal of Louise’s secret (something so strange and complex that the film should be commended for not completely falling apart when she explains it) for its first half, the film becomes far more meditative and existential, both about mortality, but also like Resolution, about genres; particularly the difference between the supernatural, the domain of horror, and the scientific, the domain of sci-fi. For Louise, it’s not an insignificant semantic designation, and her non-supernatural worldview makes her dilemma far more moving and profound (depending on how one views the ending).
The final shot of the film, as was the rather terminal and audience indicting final shot of Resolution, is absolutely brilliant and the use of off-screen sound is incredibly effective. While I may not have found this film as consistent as Resolution, the sweeping and mobile camera work throughout shows increasing complexity and artistic growth on the part of the filmmakers who thankfully have two more films in development according to IMDB. This is unique, compelling cinema, even if not all of it works, and a nice addition to the current new wave of American indie horror dramas. A major characteristic of this new wave is that its films characters are developed enough to exist outside of the generic trappings. The characters here are interesting and attractive and the central dilemma a universal one; however, it’s a universal dilemma taken to the extreme, a metaphor that has become embodied, an anxiety made physical in the text. Rather than gimmicky, that embodied metaphor works for me in the way that sci-fi elements added to the authenticity and depth of the relationships in Upstream Color or in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. For some reason, at least for me, from Buster Keaton overcoming an absurdly dangerous comic world to find love in his films (a world that at time seems bent on killing him) to those more recent sci-fi romances, there is a power to films that show relationships using irreality or more expressionistic techniques. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with work. In more straight ahead romantic dramas or romantic comedies, love is underlying chemical reaction turned plot device. In these films characters have to work; even if that work involves overcoming ridiculous physical complications, scientifically modified consciousness, or accepting horrific secrets.