PLOT: Evan, a young American who decides to flee the states and travel to Italy, meets a mysterious woman with whom he almost instantly falls in love. Only problem is, she's hiding a monstrous secret.
REVIEW: SPRING is the classic Boy Meets Girl scenario with a horror veneer. Boy Meets Girl, Boy Finds Out Girl is a Monster, Monster-Girl leaves Boy, Boy Tries to Get Monster-Girl Back. Really a simple story with an unusual twist, but the engaging thing about SPRING is, that particular twist doesn't get too much in the way of the movie's objective, which is to make you care about these characters and their budding romance. Directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson have concocted a clever film that at first feels like it's creeping toward some kind of cataclysmic freakout but is, sneakily, a sweet, pensive dramedy with heart and smarts. (And yes, okay, it is a little freaky.)
The story centers on Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), an Angeleno riding a streak of severe unluckiness. When we meet him, he's just witnessed his mother's passing; years ago, his father died suddenly of a heart attack. When he violently loses his temper at his workplace and is promptly fired, that's the last straw. Evan, on a complete whim, decides to hop on a plane and go anywhere. (His decision is helped by the fact he's being sought by the police.) Evan ends up in Italy and quickly meets up with two British hooligans who take him to a lovely coastal town where they proceed to drink everything in sight. At this point, it would appear SPRING is setting up a standard tourists-in-trouble tale, but we soon learn Moorhead and Benson are all about quietly subverting our expectations.
Evan wisely looses his boorish companions after he catches sight of an enigmatic beauty (Nadia Hilker). Named Louise, she at first appears too eager to dash off with him and copulate; Evan, fearing initially that she's a prostitute, decides to skip that step and woo her. Their courtship is cute and believable, with Evan playing the role of cocky American to Louise's mysterious seductress. Again, the film seems to be leading somewhere ghastly - and in some ways, it is - but we're thankfully spared any HOSTEL-like histrionics in favor of something more tragically creepy. Louise changes sometimes. Unless she has injected herself with an unidentified serum, a transformation takes hold and she spasms and lurches, twisting into a monster right out of Lovecraft's nightmares. Chowing down on an animal would appear to quiet the beast within, but there's no getting around the fact that she's not exactly the girl next door.
It would be inaccurate to label SPRING a horror movie; instead, it's a romantic fable with some very squiggly, yucky ideas and imagery sprinkled in along the way. Moorhead and Benson dish out some ominous sights - close-ups of gross insects and decaying animals, in particular - but even the horror movie stuff is muted. I'm reminded of Jarmusch's ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, which also focused on a supernatural love affair in a very sensible way. There are some "holy shit!" moments, indeed, and one of the movie's pleasures is that you're not quite sure when they'll arrive. Otherwise, SPRING is all about the connection between Evan and Louise, their potentially doomed love affair, and what makes them human.
Something to appreciate is a film that's is stripped bare of any meaningless fluff. The only subplot of significance in SPRING is a tender one; Evan finds work on an orange grove with a quiet old man who acts as a calming and contemplative presence in the younger man's life. We're meant to fall in love with Evan and Louise just as they fall in love with one another. And despite the macabre implications of the duo's relationship, SPRING is often very funny; that shouldn't be ignored. There are amusing moments of self-awareness that don't tip over into elbow-nudging territory (Evan, a savvy fellow, rattles off a list of possible monsters Louise might be after discovering her secret). Even Louise turns out to have a rather healthy sense of humor about her situation; when she opens up and starts to be herself, she's as cool as a cool girl can be.
This is a very nice step forward for Moorhead and Benson who, I'm assuming on a fairly meager budget, craft a movie that's about as polished as any studio effort. (It doesn't hurt that their setting is utterly gorgeous and picturesque.) They've cast their leads just right: Pucci is simultaneously resilient and vulnerable, while Hilker is both tender and dangerous. Crucially, the actors have palpable chemistry, rarely hitting an inauthentic note. You'll want to spend much more time with the couple than you get to, a testament to how well SPRING has been lovingly constructed.