By Keri O’Shea
A couple of years ago, I saw the first horror feature penned and directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. This film was Resolution – a film which easily made it into my favourite films of that year, though to tell the truth, I lost touch with what the directors had been doing since. It was a surprise and a pleasure, then, to find out that their new movie, Spring, was on the Celluloid Screams 2014 bill, and it was just as much of a surprise and a pleasure to see what Moorhead & Benson have achieved with this, their second feature – a film which has forged in a completely new direction from their earlier work, but which retains the acerbic, well-pitched humour alongside all the monstrous goings-on.
We meet Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) as a young man on the brink of a complete meltdown. Upon losing his mother to cancer, he seeks questionable solace in the company of his ever-stoned friend Tommy (yep, that’s Jeremy Gardner from The Battery) and a succession of bottles, bar-fights and bad decisions. Something’s got to give, so Evan decides that to get away from his demons, he’ll just hop on the first flight to Europe and see where he ends up. Where he ends up, at first at least, is doing more of the same, only swapping American beer for European lager and hanging out with two British wasters (in what has to be one of the finest and most well-observed depictions of well-meaning but dickheaded Brits abroad ever committed to film). A visit to the coast, however, changes things.
When he spots a beautiful young woman in the town square (Nadia Hilker) and opts not to follow his new friends off to Holland, he decides to stay put, at least for a little while. And, as per the rules of romance, the more dismissive this woman is, the more interested he gets, taking a job in the area as a farm-help and doing his damnest to convince her to go out with him. Eventually, the mystery woman – Louise – accepts, but she makes it clear that it’ll all be on her terms and that she has no intention of getting too close. However, it seems like there’s more to this than just a lady playing coy. Her behaviour goes from cold to baffling to downright incomprehensible. Just what is her deal? I hope I won’t be accused of spoilers, if I say that it’s not any of the tired tropes you might be expecting.
This is, to my mind, the crowning strength of Spring. Less-ambitious or assured filmmakers would probably play it safe, putting a neat spin on, say, a vampire story, and leaving it at that – not least considering that this is only a second feature, not a fifth or sixth. What Moorhead & Benson decide to do instead is to create a mythos all of their own, and they have a lot of fun taking us through it. Sure, you may be able to spot a nod to an existing idea here or there, including one scene which reminded me a lot of a key scene in a certain 80s art-house horror (which I won’t name, as that would definitely spoil things) but Spring is very much out there on its own. A word which is thrown around a lot when describing horror is ‘Lovecraftian’, in the same way that ‘Lynchian’ is short-hand for ‘a bit weird’, and similarly, in the case of Spring I’ve heard ‘Lovecraftian’ used. Whilst it has some uses beyond the most obvious, as Spring is definitely a film of unnameables and unknowables, ‘Lovecraftian’ doesn’t quite cut it either. Hell, I’m tying myself up in knots here trying to talk about the film without giving it away; the short version is that Spring gives us something interesting, original and – rarest of all – unique. For that, it deserves a lot of credit. Something else which is very striking about Spring is its location; shot in Apulia, Southern Italy, the setting is more than just a pretty face. For all of the stunning photography, with lots of wide-angle shots and aerial work, Italy winds up being linked in to the plot in a very engaging manner. It also allows a pleasing set of contrasts, between the bright daylight and warm sun, and the more nefarious goings-on behind closed doors or in other tucked-away spaces. I always like this when it’s done well, and here it’s done very nicely indeed. Here, we have a beautiful place which is harbouring something which is both inextricably linked to, and yet worlds apart from it.
No ‘difficult second film’, Spring achieves a great deal: it’s many things, amongst which it’s a reflection on romantic love (talk about it never running smooth), selfhood and the human condition – all spelled out with originality and vigour, sharp dialogue and well-realised humour. As if that wasn’t enough, it lands us with an ambiguous ending, not quite allowing us a positive resolution. Nothing is as it seems in the world of this film, and we’re shown this in style throughout.