A love story with monster elements provides plenty to admire, if not love.
For their follow-up to Resolution, Justin Benson and Aaron S. Moorhead ditch the meta qualities of their debut feature for straight storytelling in Spring. Their film opens with Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) watching his mother succumb to cancer while taking care of her. A bar cook with only one friend in town, and now one enemy after viciously beating up a gang-banger, Evan takes the advice of people around him to leave town and start over. He packs his things, grabs his passport and calls an airline telling them to book a flight for him anywhere out of the country.
Evan winds up in Italy, wandering around until he befriends two British tourists. He follows them to a small, seaside village where he finds work as a farmhand for Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti). Spending his time off exploring the town, Evan meets Louise (a perfectly cast Nadia Hilker), a beautiful, mysterious woman. Evan convinces her to go on a date, and within a short amount of time the two appear to fall madly in love with each other. And then one night Louise wakes up and eats a stray cat outside her apartment.
Yes, Louise isn’t exactly the perfect girl. She’s keeping a dark, bizarre secret from Evan, the specifics of which don’t get revealed until later. Her body changes and transforms into strange, Lovecraftian creatures that she can only hold off by injecting herself with some sort of custom-made medication. Credit to Moorhead and Benson: the reason for Louise’s bizarre, seemingly supernatural affliction is completely original. It also ties directly into the film’s themes of rebirth, moving on and love.
The natural, comedic banter seen in Resolution makes up most of the (surprisingly superior) first half. Lou Taylor Pucci, a chameleonic character actor, gets to show off his skills with a sympathetic leading role, but Nadia Hilker feels like the real discovery in the film. Hilker, a German-born actress with a hard to place accent, possesses the seductive, well-traveled qualities making Nadia captivating presence from the second she shows up. Moorhead and Benson also find a way to work within their low-budget to pull off some inventive shots, presumably using drones or miniature helicopters to swoop through the city’s narrow alleyways and over the gorgeous ocean view.
The problem is that, even with the originality on display, some of it isn’t necessarily good. Once Moorhead and Benson lay everything out, including a fairytale-esque twist on Louise’s condition, the mystery disappears, only to get replaced with something more on-the-nose and messy. It makes the final act — a spur of the moment road trip — come across as hasty, a sort of exhausting sprint to the finish line. And the ending, a nice low-key way to close the film, still feels too abrupt considering the time spent on the build-up beforehand.
But it’s hard to dwell on the problems with Spring, even though they do exist. No one else in the horror genre is really trying the sort of material Moorhead and Benson work with here. Their influences appear vast (a few examples: An American Werewolf in London, Before Sunrise, From Beyond, and Possession), casually mixing genres without fumbling the transitions. There’s plenty to admire about Moorhead and Benson’s work in Spring, just not as much to love. It’s a slight misstep, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
This review was initially published as part of our TIFF 2014 coverage. Spring is available today March 20 in limited theaters and VOD.