This week Sarah from Scifridays and Alex from The Tuesday Zone teamed up to tackle the much-hyped Spring, directed by Justin Benson. Spring centers around Evan, who travels to Italy on impulse after the abrupt deaths of his parents and an incendiary bar fight. He meets Louise, a mysterious woman with a heck of a past.
Sarah (SciFriday): Spring was recommended to me via Drafthouse banner advertising a ‘Lovecraftian Horror Romance’. Naturally, I had to bring in our resident Lovecraft expert [Editor’s note: Alex writes Eldritch Adaptations, a series of reviews of Lovecraft adaptations] to verify this grandiose claim.
Alex (The Tuesday Zone): I saw a poster that called it “a hybrid of Richard Linklater and H.P. Lovecraft,” which must have been written by someone with a completely surface level understanding of both [Editor’s note: Apparently rogertebert.com?]. But regardless, it intrigued me, and with the dearth of Lovecraft-influenced movies with any substance, I was easily swayed by the trailer, which totally gave off the impression that it would be a well-thought out movie.
S: Agreed – the trailer looked really well made, like we could have been in store for a cerebral romance with hints of the unknown by way of Lovecraftian monster myth. In fact, if anyone would like to make that movie, please for the love of the Elder Gods (too cheesy?) do ittttt.
A: The saddest part is that the movie does have hints of a romance with a Lovecraftian monster myth. But the filmmakers decided that, to make all of the intrigue tolerable, they needed to wrap it in a narrative that’s painfully boring. You know, for contrast.
S: Would you say that this movie was verifiably Lovecraftian?
A: I would say that the story of Louise—whose name I had to look up because, as you noted, it’s said once in the whole movie—has a unique Lovecraftian impulse. [Editor’s spoiler: Louise has found out how to regenerate her cells and thus live for millenia. However, in between phases of regeneration, her body transformers into previous evolutionary stages, which include some horrifying, tentacle-y monsters.] But the movie as a whole is far from Lovecraftian, and you have to dig to find that aspect of it. The poster and advertising definitely used it as a buzzword rather than a genuine thematic hook. What do you think?
S: Debatably Lovecraftian to me means something distinctly alien or other-wordly, with elements of dimensional horror. So Louise’s condition does not seem Lovecraftian, because they go out of their way to specify that her origin is evolutionary and rooted in genetic code, not something inexplicable.
A: I actually disagree with that point, to an extent. While cosmicism and extra-dimensional horror are obviously central, a lot of his stories have to do with the discovery of the unknown in our own history and bloodlines. In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the protagonist realizes he has Deep One blood; in “Rats in the Walls,” the protagonist learns that his ancestors were cannibal monsters; in At the Mountains of Madness, Danforth learns that humanity was an accidental creation by greater beings. I think Spring actually captures this by revealing the horrors at the root of human evolution, how our fundamental understanding of humanity is wrong. But they didn’t actually probe that, they just used it for visual horror.
S: That’s fair. A large part of Louise’s “problem” is rooted in a sort of quiet, potentially horrific background, but they don’t really use it to their advantage. There is the barest whisper of the incredible implications, used only in the final scene.
A: They use it for body horror and mystery, but not the actual ideas and implications. It’s a surface-level understanding of their own movie.
S: I guess that’s what I mean when I talk about the distinct-ness of the Lovecraft mythos, like, Louise has such a minor reveal moment and then Evan just takes it more or less in stride and literally whisks it away – it’s really the uneventfulness that doesn’t feel Lovecraftian.
A: Do you think it’d be fair to say that it has Lovecraftian story elements, but no Lovecraftian horror—and thus, is pretty misleading in how it sells the Lovecraft angle?
S: Yes – that’s exactly it. It’s not the most major problem though – that problem’s name is Evan.
A: Evan might actually be the most boring movie character I’ve ever witnessed.
S: He’s extra-boring not just because he’s badly written, but because they spend so much time trying to make sure that he isn’t boring. So he fails to be interesting over and over again. Worse, their efforts affect other characters in a negative fashion.
A: I didn’t even notice how many times they try to make him sympathetic until you pointed it out. It’s this weird struggle between the directors trying to make him the lens through which we experience Louise’s story—which requires Evan being a blank slate—and trying to make him a fully-realized character. They completely fail at both. Confusingly, he just kind of takes on the traits of whoever is around him. Do you think that’s what makes the other characters so flat, or is it just generally bad writing?
S: Probably a little bit of both. I mean, if you take every character as how they relate to Evan and then try and separate them, they don’t fare well.
Brits/Drunk Idiot Friends – Present to make Evan seem sober and smart in comparison.
Farmer – Evan seems kind and respectful, hardworking.
Louise – Evan continues to be understanding, although a bit of a dick, ultimately a good boyfriend.
A: You’re right; they’re all contrasts. More importantly with the Brits, they show what he could become: a useless chav. So the natural follow-up to this is, is Evan the protagonist? What’s his arc? Why focus on him at all?
S: I think we touched on it a little bit – he’s supposed to be the lens through which we learn about Louise, but he’s a terrible lens. The idea is solid though, right? Like, I’m all about a movie that takes a really complex character like Louise and slowly introduces us to her through someone else’s eyes. This is why films like Hannibal are successful, but, Will Graham and Clarice Starling are interesting characters on their own. Evan should be a simple straw to the glass of Louise, but he’s a crazy straw that takes too long to deliver the beverage.
A: Which is a shame, because the beverage is fantastic.
S: In a pro-female way, haha.
A: Oh, definitely. I feel like the filmmakers thought that Louise couldn’t carry the movie on her own for some reason. While I agree that you need a measure of the familiar to make the unfamiliar work for audiences, I think that they mistakenly assumed a boring white dude could be that measure. Instead, they could have made it anything else.
S: I think it was confusing because we could have had a movie about Louise with the SAME cutscenes of her dealing with her condition. There could have been a boy involved, but we don’t really need him. If they wanted to keep her mysterious like that, then we should have had no scenes of just her to maintain the mystery, almost treat her like a typical movie monster. They clearly couldn’t make up their mind about who the movie was about, who the movie should have featured, and who is doing the observing.
A: I want to give the screenwriters the benefit of the doubt and say they knew Louise was who the movie is about. I think that they knew that hiding information from the audience makes them want to know more, and that you need to be conservative about your monster/sci-fi scenes. But they didn’t realize that you don’t have to make everything else incredibly dull as a contrast. And let’s be honest, when compared to the scenes with Louise, the rest of the movie is painfully dull. The effects are everything your reviews have taught me are great.
S: I don’t want to sound like I just wanted a really obvious film about a cool chick who transforms into weird things – but I want to make it clear to our readers that the creative team behind Spring knew that they needed to remedy that situation, but didn’t know how to fix it. Thus, the pieces are good. Louise’s story is great. The effects are great. The setting is beautiful, and it’s a pretty movie.
A: It’s a pretty movie in spite of the dialogue and cinematography, which don’t capture the great work done by the creative team. Sadly, in my experience with Lovecraft movies, this is a hallmark of amateur horror. Not indie horror—as It Follows clearly demonstrated—but amateur horror. Although that’s a realm you know a lot more about than I do.
S: I’m willing to overlook poor (or mediocre) cinematography, but poor dialogue is a big problem. Amateur movies show a love for their subject, especially true for Lovecraft I think, and that makes them endearing. Spring doesn’t feel like a misguided fan-movie, but a confused result of professional amateurs who didn’t quite prepare for the movie they wanted to make.
A: That’s a spot-on assessment. In more capable hands, it actually could have been Linklater meets Lovecraft, but the time, money, and energy just aren’t there.
S: Speaking of lack of preparation – it would behoove us not to discuss the male perspective that is rampant and actively detrimental. I know I don’t like to get super soap-box-y, but it’s actually just insane. Evan’s selfishness and determination are extremely convoluted. Louise’s life changes in a week because of it, and it’s one of the most distracting/detracting things. Agreed?
A: I have no qualms with getting on my soap box. You are 100% correct. This woman has achieved immortality, autonomy, and happiness. Then, some angsty dude with no personality does everything he can to make her get rid of that for no reason other than he wants to stay with her. But we have no reason to understand why she would give up her previous life—which seems totally fine—for Evan.
S: Again, they hint at it. Louise occasionally talks about how difficult it is to start over every twenty years, but she laughs about it like it isn’t a big deal. Evan clearly needs someone else in his life following the death of his parents, but that point isn’t emphasized enough. There is definitely potential for a tortured immortal (see: almost every vampire movie ever) and a man without a home finding each other, but Spring is not this movie.
A: It wants to be, though. And the problem is that Spring isn’t willing to run with the uniqueness of its plot. It feels the need to wrap it in a familiar shell, which makes it a familiar movie in the worst way. It’s like how they feel the need to filter the plot through the lens of a generic white male, because god forbid Louise’s conflict take center stage. But your point leaves the big question: what movie is Spring? What does it want from us?
S: Thattttttt is a great question. I think, going back to my first sentence, it wanted to be a cerebral sci-fi horror romance with a heavy dose of Lovecraft and the storytelling of Linklater. Instead, it skirts around all of those genres, separately, without really pursuing any of them with enough gusto to make for a complete film.
A: Do you think this is endemic of the low-budget horror genre, or a unique problem to this movie?
S: It’s hard to say, because ‘horror’ by definition usually has a baddie in some way, whereas Spring flirted with the sort of mind-boggling possibilities without that moment that makes an audience have that stomach-sinking epiphany.
A: Is it fair to say that Spring wanted to be its own movie, but relied on tropes from other genres? It wanted the shortcuts and cheats given to genre films, but didn’t have any interest in being an actual genre film, which feels lazy.
S: Mm, no. I don’t think so. Lots of great movies grab from other genres successfully without suffering. I think Spring honestly just suffers from poor execution of a fantastic idea. It’s easy to make the comparison because of their similar release dates, but It Follows borrows tropes and genres and slaps them into a brilliant cerebral horror film.
A: That’s a good point. It’s not that Spring commits any grave offenses, rather that it’s just not well-made. If everything were worked on about twice as hard–except for setting and Nadia Hilker’s performance as Louise—then it could have been excellent.
S: Maybe just more research? Like, this shot is effective, this character isn’t fairly gendered, this Sumerian sacrifice scene is unnecessary, etc.
A: Can you explain that scene a little for our dear readers? It’s one of the most incongruous scenes in the entire movie.
S: They hint at Louise’s immortality in several ways throughout the film without any indicators to make them make any sense. The Sumerian scene is the best example of it, because basically what happens is that Louise suffers beyond her self-medication and then goes into a cave and performs a ritual. It looks like she hasn’t done it much, maybe, but it’s not clear what’s happening. Alex, you were the one that pointed out it looked like she was just ‘trying’ the ritual to see if it would work.
A: Which would be effective if we actually knew what was ailing her. It doesn’t contribute to our understanding of her character, but rather muddles it. Also, I totally forgot that I said that. I’m bad at this job.
S: Same with the conquistador joke. I only got it on the second viewing, because what was meant to be a cheeky reference is just a weird sentence with no contextual clues for a first-time viewer. Louise quips, “I went to Mexico with an ex on a boat once,” and then, “He always had to conquer everything,” which I take to assume she dated a conquistador.
A: And that’s a really good joke, I think. But the execution makes it seem like they don’t understand how watching a movie works. Maybe you’re supposed to watch it backwards? Then it ends with Evan getting punched in the face, which would be a lot more satisfying.
S: Hah, yes. So, final thoughts?
A: I appreciate what Spring tried to do, and if I dig deep enough, I can find a lot of interesting things to think about. But the execution is entirely lacking, and thus the onus is on the viewer to find the merit. I’d love to see a movie just about Louise, though. What about you?
S: It’s not an unpleasant movie to watch, although Evan is pretty infuriating. The glimmer of potential makes it entertaining enough, I think, but I would really like to see this concept better executed, because it’s extremely interesting.
A: I think you had the best idea for this movie: an immediate remake.
S: Yeah, from a female-identified director like Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) who understands how to make a female-centric horror film and could give Louise the attention and movie she deserves.
A: So to any of you enterprising, up-and-coming female horror directors, here’s your chance. Sarah, I feel like we’ve missed the opportunity to pun on the title of this movie. Do you have any puns that can take us out?
S: Spring, or Springboard to a Better Movie.