Review: ‘Spring’ uses genre devices to tell a beautiful story about intimacy

Some people just plain have your number.

That's what it boils down to. We can talk of love and passion and chemistry and we can do our best to capture these ineffable things on film or in words, but the truth of it is that some people just plain have your number. You know what I mean. There are people that we meet who are simply part of our lives from that moment forward, who hit us like trucks. If you're lucky, you meet a number of them over the course of your life, at the times when you can embrace that all-or-nothing thing that lands on you, and you are able to get and to give everything that makes the connection so powerful and irrefutable. And if you're not, you still meet them, and you spend the rest of your life tangled in various ways, sometimes tied in knots by it. But either way, no matter what the outcome, the truth is the same. There's this person, and they've got you, completely, and there's no denying it.

“Spring” is a small, beautiful film, and I don't think films get credit for those things often enough. Lou Taylor Pucci has starred in a number of tiny love stories, but he's never made a movie like this one before. I feel like I would do the film a disservice to discuss much of the story, but it's safe to say that this is a boy-meets-girl movie, and one of the ways I would rate its effectiveness is to say that it has lingered since I saw it last September. I wasn't ready to write about it the moment I saw it, since part of the experience of how the film landed on me was because of when and how I saw it. That was Fantastic Fest, and for the first time in several years, I wasn't technically working at the festival. Instead, I took those eight days off and went with someone who was and is very important to me. Someone, you might say, who has my number. “Spring” is a very knowing film, and what it gets right more than anything else is the way we find ourselves helpless once we encounter that kind of love. In telling this story, directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead use genre conventions to get at something true, and that's one of my favorite kind of genre movies. When Evan (Pucci) meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), he's at a turning point. His mother has just passed away, and thanks to a fight, he's had to leave home for a while. Italy is unfamiliar territory for Evan, but that's part of the reason he's wide open when he meets Louise. She's looking for a fleeting encounter, but Evan realizes right away that there's something else going on here, and he can't give her that casual thing. There are some great monster transformations in this film, shot both for the visceral and emotional impact, and Hilker deserves praise for grounding what could have been an impossible role in the wrong hands.

You'll spend some of “Spring” trying to guess which horror trope Moorhead and Benson are playing with, and that's certainly part of the game they're playing. But they're ultimately doing their own thing, using the familiar as a starting point but creating something that is uniquely theirs by the end. While I don't think this is a genuine horror film, the horror elements here instead lend a sadness and a futility to things that stings. Part of the problem when someone has your number completely is that anything less than 100% connection hurts. No matter how rational you are, no matter what you tell yourself, it hurts because these connections are chemical. They are felt in a way that has nothing to do with rational thought. Benson's screenplay examines this situation in a way that feels totally honest, and it's impressive to see how it deals with the fear of intimacy that is part of new relationships, and it gets into the way people can sabotage things out of fear of showing the worst parts of themselves to someone else. We've all felt like there was something about who we are that we are afraid to share, afraid that it might make us fundamentally impossible to love. How much are we entitled to of someone else? Can you ever ask someone to give themselves to you completely, or do they have a right to hold back parts of themselves? And if you do have secrets to keep, how do you ask that of someone you're intimate with?

There aren't many films of any genre that deal with these things well, so seeing someone do it in what is ostensibly a horror movie just highlights what an accomplishment this is. When I moderated a Q&A with the filmmakers after one of the screenings of this at Fantastic Fest, they asked me to do it with them playing characters. They shot the scene for whatever their next film is, and I wanted to point out that you may end up seeing a fleeting shot of me in that film. That has nothing to do with how much I think “Spring” works, though. This is a film that suggests that Morehead and Benson have something important to share with their work, and I look forward to seeing anything they put together.