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Did you ever date a girl that had a big secret? One that would cause most guys to cut and run? That's the basic premise behind Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's horror / romance Spring, and it certainly is a doozie of a secret.
Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is having a terrible time of it. His mom just died, and he's been fired from his job at a bar for beating the tar out of a guy after the funeral. The police are looking for him, and he really doesn't know what to do with his life. On a whim, he decides to go to Italy and bum around for a while. While there, he sees a mysterious young woman, Louise (Nadia Hilker), and even tries to talk her up, but is rebuffed. Undeterred, he gets a job at an olive farm owned by grizzled farmer Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti) just so that he can stay in the area.
Well, eventually Evan and Louise do get together, over coffee and wine, and a passionate romance starts up. But something is not quite right with Louise. At first, we the audience see strange things but Evan is in the dark. She shoots up from unmarked syringes, her skin will shift and change, she is burned by direct sunlight, she has a thirst for blood… But it isn't what you would think right away. Evan does start to get suspicious, but before he can learn much more, she breaks off the relationship, after less than a week. And that might be it, but he comes back one more time to talk and discovers her in, ah, a very compromised position.
I won't go into the details about the exact nature of Louise's condition, but suffice to say that it is interesting and somewhat unique in the horror world. I think the story is unique as well, but I spoke to another online critic, and she doesn't think there's anything original about it at all. And in a way, she's right. On the romance end, this is the normal male fantasy of the average schlub snagging the beautiful and sophisticated woman. On the horror end, well I don't recall anything exactly like it, but there are films that have at least explored some similar themes. The combination of these two stories, though, does seem to strike the mind as something different from the normal horror film.
Grue heads beware, this is not a hard charging, gory ride with bared breasts jiggling all over the screen. There is violence, and some blood, and very good creature effects, and a few flashes of nudity here and there. But it's mostly a relationship film in a horror film body. And it works because both Pucci and Hilker give great performances, and work well together. Whatever that magic thing "chemistry" is, they have it, and are quite believable as the young couple just falling in love. As for the plot, there isn't much of one. For Spring the point is the journey. The film takes its time, with a languid pace and not much action, but nevertheless manages to hold our attention. The small reveals of Louise's true nature are spaced just far enough apart, and get more intriguing as they go on. Moorhead and Benson manage to create a low burn tension and keep it going throughout, though it never gets terribly intense.
The film is very well shot, if you like the will-o-the-wisp style wandering camera thing. There are a number of very impressive drone shots as well. The color is somewhat washed out but warm and very dream like. The effects are top notch as well, a mix of practical and CG. Louise's transformations are very well done. There were only a few moments where the CG wasn't quite true to life, in particular a moment when a rabbit is killed, but overall the effects are very accomplished. Really, the only criticism of the film is that the story is somewhat lacking. But it appears that Benson and Moorhead accomplished what they set out to do, and I appreciate that. Highly recommended.
The image is 2.40:1 widescreen, and as I said looks quite good. It is intentionally dreamlike and diffuse in presentation, but always clear and bright. There are a few moments of striking imagery: a group of darkly shaded people at the bottom of the screen and light colored buildings at the top, stark white buildings splashed with blood, etc. This is a very good looking film.
Audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel, and works quite well. The film takes place largely out of doors, and the soft crash of the waves, or buzz of insects, etc. are all around us. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish. There is a moment where subtitles are visible for a character on the other end of a phone call, but we cannot hear the dialogue, but other than that there is no issue. No alternate language track is included.
There are a number of extras included. They are:
The Making of Spring
Normally when I see a making of that's an hour and ten minutes long, I despair of the time I will have to waste watching it. And I let out a groan of displeasure here as well, but was quickly relieved. This making of is intelligent and entertaining, made by Benson and Moorhead themselves and not some third party. It includes interviews with most of the cast, the Italian crew, the producers, editor, etc. It is very enjoyable in its own right.
Two extended sequences: more of the hashish smoking bit, and more of looking through the biology book.
SFX Case Studies
This short segment shows the process that was used to come up with the main effects shot in the film.
Proof of Concept
This is the original short that Benson and Moorhead made to show their basic concept and help raise funds. Pretty cool.
Note the quotation marks. This is a humorous fake ending, mostly with Pucci ranting on a pay phone. It's funny.
Toronto Film Fest Promo
The first of two strange promos for Spring, this one involving UFOs.
Fantastic Fest Promo
This promo also is UFO themed, but also has cultists and suicide.
In the film, Louise asks Evan to write her a love note soon after they've met. This is a few humorous takes on what the note might have said.
The Talented Mr. Evan
An inside joke for fans of The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Angelo, The Worst Farmer
Two minutes explaining why Angelo really doesn't know how to farm.
Wankster Girlfriend Monologue
A pretty impressive monologue, cut short in the film, from one of the initial scenes in the bar.
Evan Ti Odio
A silent short film with Hilker about love and loss.
If you like buckets of gore and miles of nudity in your horror films, Spring is probably not for you. If you like thoughtful, beautifully shot films that take their time, and can deal with a pretty standard male fantasy romance, then this is definitely one to see. This was a well-made, interesting outing, and I'm curious to see what Moorhead and Benson will do next.