A horror-imbued, science-fiction-tinged tale of rebirth and new beginnings, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s second feature avoids genre clichés to deliver an anxious exploration of romantic love. It follows young American Evan as he runs away to Italy after grief gets him into trouble at home. Coasting along with two loud Brits he met at his hostel, he arrives at a small seaside village, where he encounters the beguiling Louise, all sultry Mediterranean charm and free-spirited elusiveness. As their romance develops in this dreamy setting, it soon becomes apparent that Louise hides a dangerous, ancient secret.
A searching, fretful film, Spring probes the essence of love through earnest (at times a little clunky) dialogue. With a creature that could be a vampire, a zombie, a mutant, or a predatory animal, the horror elements are used to reveal a deep unease about the strange nature of women and their bodily transformations, as well as an intense yearning to find a way of making someone yours forever. It is the story of a taming of sorts, of the monstrous, menacing other, but also of one’s own fears, although that taming seems a little too much like wishful thinking for the resolution to be entirely convincing.
In his single-minded pursuit of love, Evan is endearingly naïve and single-minded. More experienced in many ways, Louise seems stronger and wiser, but her characterisation does not ring quite true, and she feels more like a fantasy than a real person. As she springs up in the village square almost like the incarnation of Evan’s desire, it is possible to imagine that she was conjured up by his imagination while he drifts in this far-off, foreign place.
The setting, near Pompeii, with the volcano as background, is used to great effect to create the feel of something archaic and primeval. The premise for the horrific aspect of the story is fascinating, with its insistence on scientific explanation over the supernatural, which is also part of Benson and Moorhead’s refusal to fall into easy genre categories. The story is firmly grounded in nature, with many inserts of insects, as well as unhurried sequences showing Evan’s work at the farm where he is staying, surveying the olive trees, the caterpillars that eat them and the strange brown goo produced by root rot.
Visually, it is a tremendously assured and inventive film that mixes detailed close-ups and startling aerial shots, small scale and large scale, to inscribe the nascent intimacy of the two lovers against the wider panorama of life. It is this ambition of vision together with the freshness of their talent that makes Benson and Moorhead ones to watch, and despite its weaknesses, the film as a whole, in its imperfect quest for love, has a winning dark charm.
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