Directing duo Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead have had nothing but promise to live up to since their terrific no-budget debut Resolution back in 2012. They’ve followed it up by having the best segment (by a significant measure) in V/H/S: Viral, but a short segment wasn’t really going to seal the deal that these two would live up to their promise. Spring however, does just that and then some.
Similar to Resolution, the plot and the characters of the this film begin in a very realistic place that slowly yet surely morphs and evolves into something that – before you realize it – snaps immediately into a place that is much more heightened and frightening. Following the death of his mother and a drunken brawl that has charges looking to be pressed against him, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) takes an impulsive trip to Italy, where he ends up meeting the gorgeous Louis (Nadia Hilker) and strikes up a romance with her. Louise however is housing a dark secret about herself that has terrifying consequences.
There’s an affectionate timidity in Pucci. He is vulnerable in a way that is understated throughout the film, but bursts of confidence come through in a way that feels natural with his character. He’s a fitting vessel to follow this story through as he keeps everything believable in the way he projects earnest emotion. There is a gripping mystery in how Nadia Hilker plays Louise. She always holds back about her character’s intentions, heightening her commanding allure while keeping you on your toes. The chemistry between the two is honest and radiant. Their affection for each other is tenderly felt, their attraction magnetic.
There is a dreamlike quality to the film that slowly erodes from fantasy to nightmare, then to somewhere in between. When Evan walks into the village where he meets Louise, time slows down as he takes in the sights around him. When he and Louise pass each other by, it’s transcendent. You fall in love with her the same moment he does. Imagery involving predators in nature are peppered throughout the film. There’s a shot of a spider devouring a fly, a snake making its way through the corpse of a dead lamb, all alluding the the dark nature of Louise lurking underneath. Aerial shots of the environment and architecture heighten the sense of tension and dread. There’s a stunning one-take sequence late in the film that captures the immediacy and frenzy of the scene in an understated manner by Benson and Moorhead.
There’s an inherent comedy in the dialogue that Benson and Moorhead write for Evan and his buddies, striding the line between naturalistic mumblecore and well-timed fratboy humor. The profanity from them is excessive and lewd, but feels fresh and genuinely funny rather than an overbearing crutch. When the dialogue between Evan and Nadia takes place, the conversational romanticism feels natural and is delivered as such by Pucci and Hilker.
The scenes involving the xxxxxxxxxxxx (it’s best as a surprise, you want to go into this film cold) of Louise are nothing short of astounding to witness. You only get glimmers of it, her mystique remains intact. The scenes ride a perfect line where you’re not certain if the effects were done practically or computer-generated, a testament to the skill on display from this filmmaking duo. The film cleverly avoids explaining “what” Louise is for much of its runtime, and in doing so fuels your imagination and engagement with the story. When the script does explain her, it is what you did not see coming but where Benson and Moorhead have been leading you all along – and you buy into all of it as these two have spent enough of the runtime allowing you to invest in the characters and story enough to buy it. It’s wondrous, terrifying and something that only filmmakers as skilled as these two could pull off. As a horror film, it’s incredibly creative and fresh, but the film also manages to thoughtfully consider themes such as eternity, the validity of love and evolution – while at the deepest level being a tenderly felt love story.