Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Producer: David Lawson, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Stars: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti, Nick Nevern
A troubled man takes a trip to Italy where he falls in love with an exotic woman harboring a dark secret about her true identity.
Evan desperately deserves a break. Two days ago he buried his mother. Yesterday he lost his job after beating a thug who threatened to do the same to his friend. Today police are anxious to speak to Evan about that same incident. That’s if the man he punched doesn’t get to him first.
With nothing but a backpack, a whim, and his passport, Evan sets off on a sudden walkabout getaway to Italy. He makes fast friends with two drunken UK tourists at a hostel, but trades up in the company he keeps when he meets exotic beauty Louise.
Evan is hooked from Louise’s first transfixing look. Somewhat surprisingly, Louise appears eager for a one-night stand. Evan however, knows he wants something more. It takes some doing, but Evan and Louise end up on a day date and their unexpected connection begins deepening.
In the afternoons, Evan takes up a job as a farmhand in exchange for a room and anonymity. At night, Evan continues exploring his newfound romance. He and Louise go through the same “getting to know you” stage of any fresh relationship. Yet Louise is hiding a secret about her true self unlike anything Evan could possibly expect. That secret threatens to not only alter their bond, but to harm Evan in shattering ways that can destroy far more than his heart.
I’ve browsed a handful of reviews for filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s “Spring,” and every one of them uses an “it’s like” to describe the movie. More specifically, “Spring’s” starting point of inconveniently destined international love correctly draws Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” as the most common comparison, with the eldritch eeriness of H.P. Lovecraft cited second.
In an effort to not simply echo what has already been said by others, I’ll force my own “it’s like” by proposing “Spring” takes the relationship dissection drama of “500 Days of Summer” and changes the spike of heartbreaking humor to hit with body horror instead. As with their previous feature “Resolution” (review here), Benson and Moorhead are alchemists of the unusual in how they mold disparate genres into a unique atmosphere for unexpected storytelling. “Spring” is their stab at fashioning a wanderlust romance with a 1990s indie film feel, only the parts they use for construction are ordered from the influences of King, Carpenter, and Cronenberg.
That Linklater-esque texture means “Spring” spends plentiful time walking, talking, musing, and meandering. Dialogue stemming from these setups is generally wise, amusing, or both thanks to an alertly observant script from Benson, although not all of it is in service to advancing Evan and Louise’s story.
“Spring” is ten minutes short of two hours, which is at least twenty minutes too long. The rub is that even when “Spring” lollygags in mundane moments, the movie remains sometimes insightful and usually entertaining. It’s just that so many of these scenes are inessential for moving the movie in its main direction that their reasons for existing are iffy.
British drinking buddies Tom and Sam are one example. Evan’s interactions with the pair, generally based on typical elbow in the ribs ‘guy’ behavior, are snicker out loud funny in their heart and in their humor. Except when Tom spends a coastline road trip easing Evan’s woe by relating his own tale of lost love, it’s something that says more about Tom than it does about Evan. Briefly developing a side character whose primary purpose is to transport the protagonist before extricating himself entirely is not an efficient use of time.
Benson and Moorhead are so passionate about their projects that they seem swept up in the seduction of their cinematic Italian vistas and organic interactions, unable or unwilling to let any of it go. The film credits four editors, two of whom are the directors. The other two were clearly unable to sway Benson and Moorhead into a leaner runtime capable of centering the focus on a less roundabout path.
It’s kind of hypocritical to suggest cuts when many of these minutes are what make “Spring’s” world relatable and its people likable. As ultimately immaterial as Jeremy Gardner is as Evan’s hometown pal in the prologue for instance, his personable nature injects early energy to establish the film’s slice-of-life setting. Hints of horror don’t enter the picture until almost the halfway point. Being grounded in an Edward Burns atmosphere is a chief component of how Benson and Moorhead switch gears into skin-crawling dread and have it feel unlike a traditional fright film.
Telling both sides of that story are terrific performances from the two leads. To tell the truth, I found Lou Taylor Pucci too unremarkably plain to be of much mention in “Evil Dead” (review here) or “Ava’s Possessions” (review here). Even though he is playing a man deep in a broken emotional daze, he has much more personality here.
Pucci needs every ounce of it too, because Nadia Hilker is astoundingly enigmatic as Louise. She is a touch too hip, mostly because of how she uses current English slang, to sell the maturity regarding where and from when she really comes. But she is smart, seductive, and mysterious in overwhelming amounts for constructing the fantasy-made-flesh woman Louise is required to be.
Together, Pucci and Hilker create chemistry that is charming with melodrama that is intriguing, which is most important for the mechanics of what makes “Spring” work. Maybe Moorhead relies too much on the trick of panning over for a reveal gag with his camera (three times by my count). Maybe Benson puts too much banter into his screenplay. What matters more is that they put precise pinches of character-driven drama and subtle scares into a movie that makes for a distinctively haunting love story.
Review Score: 80