Spring bridges the cautionary elements of a horror film with the wish-fulfilling platitudes of a touristy romance, yielding a leisurely weird pace that initially charges the film with a promising tension. The horror scenes feel misplaced, which is to say that they authentically violate the status quo of the narrative in a fashion that’s often impossible for a genre that depends on audiences more or less knowing upfront what it is that they’re paying to see. But directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead squander that tension, as they’re more interested in telling audiences what they want to hear. Namely, that it’s possible for a man to go to Italy and have a beautiful local woman proposition him almost immediately for no-strings-attached lovin’.
Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a troubled guy who, refreshingly for the hero of a naval-gazing romance, is actually working through some baggage that amounts to more than simple put-upon feelings of misunderstanding. His parents have recently died and he’s lost his job because he got into a bar fight that he didn’t start. Wanted by the cops for his role in the altercation, Evan picks Italy out of a metaphoric hat and hightails it, searching for an adventure that allows him to take stock of his life. After partying with some other tourists, he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker) and falls in love with her at first sight. And what’s not to love? She’s a gorgeous brunette who speaks countless languages in a slightly throaty voice that testifies to world-weary European superiority. She also sports an inexhaustible source of money, as well as a mystery ailment that randomly restricts her visitations with Evan, leaving mostly the nights, when young lives are glorious and movie-glamourous.
Benson and Moorhead effectively proffer this fantasy, understanding that too much plot would interfere with an audience’s vicarious enjoyment of the film’s purplish moody atmosphere. For a while, Spring casts quite a spell: the Italian countrysides are wonderfully lush, as they always are in movies, and Evan and Louise strike up a relationship that’s colored by just enough reality so as to render the daydream palatable. Pucci and Hilker have laidback chemistry, and their characters’ differences have been imagined in a fashion that’s predictable but buyable, as Evan is the good-looking wandering romantic who needs to find himself, while Louise is the kind of chilly brain who finds that lost-ness appealing as a contrast to her rigid obsessiveness.
However, enough is eventually enough, and it gets to a point where one expects more from a film than sequences in which characters alternately drink nice wine by candlelight and canoodle on the couch. Throughout, Benson and Moorhead suggests that all is not what it appears to be with this quaint Italian village. Flowers bloom at weird times, slugs collect at people’s doorsteps, and Louise has a thing for syringes that appears to stifle a problem that will figure, of course, into the third act. Spring suggests a combination of Night Tide, Splash, Dagon, and Eat Pray Love, though its horror-movie hijinks are mostly indulged so as to goose the film with the occasional much-needed jolt and to affirm the cheesy insistence that a fling must be a love for the ages.
Film Comment Selects runs from February 20—March 5.