My overall reaction to Drafthouse Film’s new release, Spring, is definitely a positive one. I’ll be interested in what the directors, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, will do next. They’ve directed one movie together before, and have both done shorts. Aaron Moorhead has one other feature length film under his belt as well. If I hadn’t turned to IMDb to find that out I would’ve assumed this was their first film. It’s definitely an interesting and atmospheric film. When it gets mentioned lately it seems to inevitably revolve around how genre bending it is.
Basically this is another film in the tune of Monsters, an indie romance with some genre elements interwoven, but without the tone changing all that much. Spring looks to horror and the supernatural for its genre hook, but it tends to fumble the execution a bit. It just leaves the film feeling less impactful than it intends.
The movie follows an American man named Evan. When we start the film he’s at his mother’s deathbed, watching her die. Next he’s drinking at the bar he works at after the funeral and has a run in with an antagonistic wannabe-gangster type. Evan basically beats the shit out of him, then gets fired. Scared about legal and illegal retribution for his actions, and feeling like he needs a change of pace, he gets on a flight and heads to Italy.
Here the movie really adopts its rambling indie movie tone as characters come and go and the film moves towards its next plot points with all the forethought and confidence of a wandering ant. However it gets major points for keeping this chunk of the film, which could quickly become dull in lesser hands, feeling interesting. Each new scene comes just quick enough, and feels like it has just enough purpose to keep it from getting drab. Characters come and go, locations change, new characters and circumstances are introduced, and many lingering shots of animals are presented.
The shots are part of the mass of symbolism in the film. Each scene is atmospheric and charged with symbolism. Initially I rolled my eyes a bit as the film introduced its mysterious femme fatale, then later showed a loving shot of a scorpion, a traditional symbol of seduction and danger. Ah pseudo-horror film, I thought, dancing that whole scary sex tune again are we. But then the symbolism resolved itself to have a more general life/death/fertility/sex thing that seemed a little more interesting. The movie’s reveals would eventually go on to reflect this change.
While in Italy Evan meets an initially boldly promiscuous Italian woman who he basically forces to date him. She’s funny and complex and interesting and seems to be getting along well with Evan, when things start taking a turn. In one scene her skin starts burning in sunlight and she descends vampire like onto the streets. When they coincidentally see each other again and go back to her apartment she excuses herself, turns into a werewolf in the bathroom, then injects something into her arm to calm the transformation. It’s all spooky and mysterious. That might’ve sounded sarcastic but it’s a legitimately intriguing wrinkle at this point.
However it does sort of stop being interesting part way through. Unlike its bedfellow Monsters, this film has a decided tendency to mishandle its genre elements. The difference is the tension. There are early scenes in Monsters that are very tense, and later the creatures in the film are effectively used to generate entirely different emotions. The problem with Spring is that it doesn’t quite know how to handle its genre elements. The intended tense scenes aren’t, and at other times I couldn’t even tell you if the scene was meant to be tense or comedic. It starts to feel rote, a hook designed to pull you in, but not a particularly honest part of the film. It starts to bog down the film more than the rambling pace ever did, and the convoluted details of the film’s monster, while clever, make the central romance all the more unbelievable.
At the risk of being repetitive part of what works about Monsters is how low stakes the central romance is. It’s not some earth shattering Romeo and Juliet story; it’s just two people who kind of like each other trapped in a bad situation growing closer. It even has a decidedly nihilistic ending that sort of revolves around the impermanence of the whole thing. Spring on the other hand is set up as an epic romance for the ages. I’d like to assume the 2000 year old woman is lying when she says she’s never been in love before, because my mind boggles at that thought. “Just been unlucky.” Really? Nothing but dicks for 2000 years? Either way her relationship with Evan is presented as the first really intense relationship she’s ever had. It’s easy to see what Evan sees in the gorgeous, immortal, incredibly smart, funny woman he’s known for a week, but it’s not easy to see what makes Evan stand out in the eyes of the aforementioned amazing and inspirational immortal woman. The intensity of their relationship is ultimately just unconvincing. The characters are a little too shallow, and the filmmakers only seem to have thought about what makes the female character appealing, and not what makes Evan appealing.
Still, like I said my overall response to the film is positive. The cracks around the edges don’t break the film, which really does have a lovely tone, some good moments, and some convincing symbolism. I’d recommend watching the film, because it is unique, and clearly made by some filmmakers with a lot of potential. They reportedly have a project on Aleister Crowley in the works, and I have to say I’d be pretty interested in seeing that film. Spring is certainly a movie that tries to do a lot of interesting things, but just ends up feeling a little unfinished and imperfect.