Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead's SPRING offers some novel, enthralling genre-jumping

Combination love story, horror and sci-fi/fantasy, SPRING proves a most rewarding movie experience. Written and directed by a twosome fairly new to film -- Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead -- their movie makes up in originality and specificity what it sometimes lacks in slickness and pacing. It is first and foremost a tale of genuine love, of a young man toward a woman he is just beginning to know. On her part, this may be something new in her very old existence, but it proves strange and important enough to struggle with.

The filmmakers, shown above, with Moorhead on the left, deliver a movie that makes wonderful use of its two co-stars -- Lou Taylor Pucci (below, right), an actor whose depths we're only beginning to discover, and a German actress new to TrustMovies named Nadia Hilker (below, left), of whom, after her work here, we are sure to be seeing more.

In rather quick succession, Spring bops us with a mother's death, a bar fight, and a sudden get-away to foreign climes -- in this case one of the more picturesque Italian locations imaginable: Polignano a Mare (below), where our hero, Evan (Mr. Pucci) arrives knowing none of the locals and little Italian. This actor has always has a knack for playing vulnerable, sweet guys, and he is using it again here. In Spring, however, he couples it to a strength both physical (he wins that bar fight) and moral. Evan is a decent guy faced with a difficult dilemma. Oh, boy, is it difficult.

The dilemma is all about the woman he meets and falls into love and lust with, played quite strikingly by Ms Hilker. We viewers are given entrance into her secrets long before Evan makes his tardy discovery, and so we can sympathize with her situation, even more so, the more we learn of it -- which is all about genetics, DNA, evolution and history, plus a rather large leap into sci-fi-cum-horror territory.

And yet, of all modern movies I've seen that begin to address this, Spring seems to handle it in by far the most empathetic manner, from the POV of the, well, shall we say, "monster" of sorts. Ms Hilker manages to be at once utterly charming and vivacious and then -- thanks to some excellent make-up and special effects -- everything from ugly to scary to horrific. The filmmakers' wide-screen compositions are alternately gorgeous and shocking (the cinematography is by Moorhead himself).

The moviemakers play their "horror" cards adroitly by showing us bits and pieces and then, at two or three points, what look like completely awful and very different breeds of "manimals" and sea life. All this is both shocking and fascinating, due to the premise on which these evolutionary high-jinx are based.  (There is also a fine little sub-plot dealing with Evan's job helping a local farmer, lovingly played by Francesco Carnelutti.)

Further, as Evan get more deeply involved in his lover's problems, the movie spills out loads of exposition, as she tries to explain to him exactly what is going on. This exposition might stop a lesser movie dead in its tracks, but because we care so much for both these characters, as they try to communicate and understand each other, we're held in place, even at the "talkiest" moments. This process becomes, for them, vital and immediate, and for us, surprisingly invigorating. The ending, as seems right, fills us with both dread and a kind of sublime peace. In its unusual way, this film has as much to say about the iterations of love, as does the just-opened Amour Fou.

Spring, then, is a love story first and sci-fi/horror second. It also marks an auspicious, second-full-length film for Benson and Moorhead. The movie -- released theatrically via Drafthouse Films and on VOD from FilmBuff, unrated and running 109 minutes -- opens this Friday, March 29, in a dozen cities across the country (here in NYC, it plays the Cinema Village; in the L.A. area it's at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas), and the following Friday, March 27, it will hit another nine. Throughout April it will reach most of the country's other major areas. You can see all the currently scheduled playdates by clicking here and scrolling down. However you choose to view it -- in a theater or via VOD -- do view.

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