In regard to appreciating art, there’s a selfish, shitty position one can all too easily find oneself adopting: That jealous miser of a patron, one who secretly hopes the artist remains obscure, so as to never risk industry defiling the creator with its tawdry crafts of fortune and reflexive back-patting. But even as one could outgrow the often naïve stance of yelling “Sellout!” at an artist who’s reached a wider audience, there remains a concern for their purity and integrity. What if their talents become fodder for the Hollywood grist mill? Filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, following the rather ingenious (and tragically under-seen) postmodern horror confection Resolution, return to the creative well with Spring—a mesmerizing, unlikely love story that explores what that means today, with the full weight of history behind it.
One part philosophizing travelogue, one part visceral Body Horror, it’s tempting (and easy) to call it Richard Linklater meets David Cronenberg. That’s fine company to be associated with, sure, but the comparison points only to fairly superficial components. Tonally and spiritually, the film has much more in common with Spike Jonze, which is a damn sight more difficult trick to pull off. The love story at the center of Spring is mysterious, funny and often poignant—a tough enough thing even to describe, let alone commit to film.
Following the death of his mother, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) tumbles into drunken depression, losing his job at a bar after he knocks a loud-mouthed thug’s lights and teeth out. Partly on the advice of his friend Tommy (an hilariously wise and permanently plastered Jeremy Gardner), and partly due to the bar thug following him home, Evan decides it’s a good time to take that trip to Italy he’d been thinking about. The first act tracks as a lost young man merely getting physical distance from his problems back home, as he floats from place to place with a couple of gregarious ex-pats from the UK. There’s no Eat, Pray, Love wish fulfillment at work in this escape plan; a man is grieving, and searching for anything that will lead him in some direction.
That “direction” arrives in the pretext of a beautiful young woman of indefinable origin, Louise (Nadia Hilker), whose rebuffing of Evan’s attempts at anything beyond a one-night stand serve only to further intrigue; Louise has a doozy of a secret she’s protecting. Efficient pacing and editing paired with beautiful cinematography (seriously, some of the camera work capturing the Italian countryside seems impossible) encourage the audience with subtle details and impressive visual effects. Only one scene in the movie could qualify it in earnest for the horror genre, which, incidentally, is the only unnecessary one. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the token Ugly American doesn’t survive, but further describing Louise’s enigmatic personality would be. Though wise beyond her apparent years, she fears the future as much as Evan.
The leads prove outstanding casting. It takes considerable ability to render characters who can rationalize the sci-fi trappings of their dilemma as simply the unlikely reality in which they’ve found themselves. Yet Pucci and Hilker’s chemistry onscreen moors the fantastic in believability, as their caution gives way to deeper intimacy. There are probably a dozen ways to read its conclusion. But Spring’s successes are so abundant and its pleasures many that, just as with their debut feature, is more than stable enough to stand up to multiple viewings. Like Jonze’s Her, Spring is, ultimately, a bracing, mature examination of the conditions placed on love, and the emotional walls erected when those conditions seem so unique a challenge.
So, if their first feature never managed to catch the gaze of the bigger studios, Benson and Moorhead’s sophomore entry will surely do the trick. It’s selfish, yes, and maybe even self-defeating, to fear the “discovery” of gifted directors like Benson and Moorhead because—like their latest film posits—discovery can also make the future stronger.
Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Augie Duke, Nick Nevern, Jeremy Gardner
Release Date: Mar 27th, 2015 (Limited; VOD)
Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter, if you must.