It’s not often that a movie comes along and creates its own genre. Spring, written by Justin Benson and directed by Benson and Aaron Moorhead (who also created the Bonestorm segment of V/H/S Viral, actually does just that: RomHor! Does that sound dumb or overhyped? Probably both, but I feel it’s true. I’ve seen many a romantic drama, and many a horror movie, and this is absolutely a successful fusion of both in that neither element feels half assed. The movie poster describes it as Richard Linklater meets HP Lovecraft – not a terrible mashup, but not completely accurate, to me anyway. This is clearly the movie that Benson and Moorhead set out to make, and I mostly liked it.
Mostly, because although the end result works well enough as is, it doesn’t work as well as it could. In terms of characterization, it’s well above mainstream horror, and in acting too, the movie benefits from two very likeable leads. I felt they were both pretty authentic in their roles too. Evan, played by Lou Taylor Pucci is particularly good – much better than the last time I saw him in 2013’s disastrous Evil Dead remake – and looks like an odd cross between younger versions of John Simm (Life On Mars) and Guy Pearce (Memento). I think most decent actors can be inspired by well-written characters, and this is definitely the case with the character of Evan, who, after a couple of big life moments, decides to split the US on a fateful, spur-of-the-moment trip to Italy where he meets Louise (German actress Nadia Hilker), who is keeping a pretty huge secret to herself, doled out by the story in dribbles.
It’s this point that the biggest flaws in the script become apparent. There’s an extended scene where Evan hooks up with two vacationing Brits, and through this, Evan ends up in a beautifully picturesque old town in coastal Italy. This is the only plot point the scene delivers, and the movie does not need any of it. It doesn’t further the character of Evan, and it doesn’t really advance the plot – in fact, it made me kind of annoyed that I had to sit through a number of scenes that are ultimately utterly pointless. It’s a good example of writers being too in love with their writing to leave anything out. Kill your darlings, lads! Another good example is the central love story between Evan and Louise – while it does feel real, and the two leads have terrific chemistry, this is another section that could easily have been trimmed by a few scenes. Oddly enough, the scenes that feature Evan working for room and board on a small orchard, also don’t have much plot value, but they do add a nice depth of character to Evan. This is a guy that you’re supposed to root for, and these scenes when he is alone and interacting with the aging orchard owner do a really good job of painting a subtle portrait. Less defined is Louise, but the mystery around her is all part of the story, of course, especially when you start to see the scenes that show what the movie is all about.
In the hands of the Guillermo Del Toro who made The Devil’s Backbone, this would have been a Spanish-language horror classic, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. If Del Toro made it now, it would have been a CGI-filled piece of fluff, but it absolutely feels like a Del Toro movie. It has the kind of pacing and look of his early work (even Crimson Peak, which was almost a return to form), and that isn’t a bad thing. I mentioned CGI – there’s definitely some CGI in this, especially in the movie’s one tentpole scene that’s sure to leave an impression on jaded horror movie enthusiasts. I was actually quite blown away by the scene. I knew something like it was coming up, but the execution was utterly unexpected. The trouble with this scene is that tonally it’s so much different than the rest of the movie, so that when the movie returns to the exact same tonality of what came before it, the effect is somewhat anticlimactic. I shouldn’t say exact same, because from the point when Evan discovers Louise’s secret, the writing becomes less interesting, and more distracting. I don’t think I really needed to hear the overcomplicated reveal regarding Louise, and the introduction of situation-humour feels forced and inorganic. Some of the scenes following – and related to – the reveal just come off as silly looking and unnecessary. These flaws all add up to the feeling that this small movie that had such great potential, just never tried hard enough to be consistent. I was also vastly disappointed by the ending, not because it skirts around the romance angle of the story, but because it embraces it in such a clichéd fashion.
Still, for a movie made by two men with only two prior credits to their name, this is hugely impressive in many ways, I just wish it could have been cut twenty minutes shorter.
© Andrew Hope, 2017
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This review was originally published on 3/02/2016 at https://thatsnotcurrentblog.wordpress.com