Imagine a cross between Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise films and an old-fashioned monster movie. It may not sound compelling, but Spring, an indie darling by filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, pulls off this mash up of genres. Their film is thoughtful, provocative, full of romance, suspense and a few scares. I wouldn’t necessarily label it a horror film. Like so many of the classic Universal monster films from the 30s, Spring is more of a drama with horror elements. Whatever you choose to call it, this is an entertaining and thought provoking motion picture.
The film begins by introducing Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), a sensitive twenty-something caring for his dying mother. He’s with her in her final moments, as she lays bedridden, stricken by cancer. Once she passes, Evan becomes an orphan. His father died just a year earlier from a heart attack. Alone, with a small inheritance, Evan is adrift. He’d given up his dreams to tend to his mother, returning to the small town he vowed to escape when he was a teenager. He feels lost and trapped.
On the night of his mother’s funeral, Evan gets into a bar fight and pummels a punk who was about to smash a bottle over his friend’s head. Evan’s violent reaction is part protection and part venting the anguish of his loss. The fight costs him his job. Worse, the punk presses charges and the police come knocking for Evan. Instead of facing the consequences, Evan flees the country.
With nothing but a small backpack and the clothes on his back, Evan winds up in Italy, touring the small villages along the Adriatic coast. During one night of binge drinking, he meets a mysterious beauty names Louise (Nadia Hilker), who is confident, carefree and only interested in a night a casual sex. Evan, however, is so taken by Louise that he’d rather take her to coffee and get to know her. She balks and leaves him standing at the bar.
Evan resists the urge to move on. Is it possible that he’s met his soulmate? There’s something about Louise that compels Evan to find a job with a local farmer and stay on in the idyllic village by the sea. As it happens, he does find her again. Evan is so charming that Louise finds it hard to say no to his date requests. As soon as they begin talking, she knows that Evan is special, too.
Louise is a college student doing research in the coastal town and she harbors a monstrous secret that prevents her from wanting to get attached to anyone. Yet Evan’s heart is so strong, and he’s so understanding, the pull to follow her emotions leads to a life changing decision for Louise.
In between the excellent special effects that reveal a hideous mutating creature and the stunning cinematography by Moorhead that left me baffled over how they could achieve such magnificent aerial tracking shots on their small budget (my guess is drones), Spring moves forward thanks to the compelling and sincere dialogue between Evan and Louise. These conversations cover the broad themes of the movie: love, death, sadness and sacrifice. As someone who usually finds his minding wandering during films that are short on plot and heavy on the improve conversations, I found Pucci and Hilker both charming enough to keep listening. The directors also wisely break up the dialogue with the intrigue of Louise and the monster killing animals around town.
One other aspect of Spring that really stands out is the film’s score. At times heartbreaking, while other times tense and brooding, Jimmy LaValle’s music is enthralling and worth seeking out on its own.
Spring is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Special features on the release include audio commentary with writer-producer-editor-director Justin Benson and producer-editor-cinematographer-director Aaron Moorhead, feature-length “The Making of Spring” featurettes, deleted scenes, SFX case studies, Proof of Concept short, an alternate ending and promo videos.