Spring film review: Love is a strange, strange creature

Benson and Moorhead’s horror love story Spring is ambitious, sweet and decidedly unusual

With their ambitious first film Resolution, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead crafted a nifty, gripping genre thriller out of very little. Spring shows the duo working with a little more money, and even more ambition.

Lou Taylor Pucci (Evil Dead, Thumbsucker) plays Evan, a Californian loner who’s reeling after his mother dies. While drowning his sorrows, he severely beats a man in a bar and finds himself needing to make a quick getaway. On the spur of the moment he buys a plane ticket to Italy, where he eventually finds himself in a beautiful coastal town and catching the eye of a beautiful girl, Louise (Nadia Hilker).

With no reason to go back to America, Evan is quickly taken with his new life and particularly taken with Louise. He falls fast for her, and it looks like she’s just as serious about their relationship as he is, but a secret will emerge that will change everything for both of them.

It’s very difficult to talk too much about Spring without giving anything away. It’s not that there’s a colossal twist, as such, but Benson and Moorhead’s considered, unhurried pacing give the revelation a particular impact. The film starts out very much in the Richard Linklater and mumblecore tradition: unflashy camerawork, naturalistic dialogue, and an aimless hero who has an endearing romanticism.

In fact, it’s a surprise how funny Spring is. Pucci is on terrific form, providing the film with its flawed but big-hearted centre. He left university to care for his ailing mother, he works a job he hates, and he’s seen so little of the country he lives in. The journey he takes is huge beyond simple geography. Benson and Moorhead provide some American tourists that neatly fit the popular European perception, for whom Evan feels the need to apologise, even as he describes the local art as porn. In short, he’s a likeable, recognisable hero who we want things to work out for.

Hilker’s Louise is a beautiful mystery, although we’re given more clues than Evan is. Benson and Moorhead tease out what exactly is going on with her, providing us with several options to guess from, and the answer is certainly surprising. Hilker plays the character with the same warmth and sense of humour as her co-star, and the longer we spend with them, the more we come to enjoy their company. The question is almost less “What exactly is Louise?” and more “What exactly does this mean for their relationship?”

The filmmakers’ determination to keep things this grounded might make Spring an acquired taste. While it is fantastical and probably most easily categorised as a horror film, the relationship is always the focal point, even as things get stranger and stranger. It’s difficult to talk too much about the influences on the film’s genre elements without spoiling anything, but there’s some really unusual and fantastic effects work.

It’s certainly confirmation that Benson and Moorhead are a duo to watch. As mentioned, Spring is a very ambitious, both visually and thematically, second film but it’s totally assured. The duo is walking a tricky path but there’s never any sense that this isn’t exactly the film they wanted to make. So while there is the occasional misstep (the tricky third act stumbles once or twice), there’s so much to admire about Spring that this odd, funny and surprisingly sweet horror romance is highly recommended. This is a treat.

This review of Spring is from the BFI London Film Festival 2014.