Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring: Love Comes on Stealthy Tentacles

When Evan saw Louise, it is like a scene from a Sophia Loren film or Ruth Orkin’s famous photo. In this case, he is the visiting American, while she is very definitely a seductive Italian. Eventually, he learns there is considerably more to her than meets the eye. The truth comes as a shock, but it is not enough to dissuade him from wooing the mystery woman in Benson & Moorhead’s Spring (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Evan should have gotten out of his dead-end burg long ago, but his father’s untimely death and his mother’s protracted illness kept him anchored to their old home. When she finally succumbs, there is little holding him there, but a drunken brawl with a vengeful gang member gives him every reason to leave. On his buddy’s advice, his hurriedly departs on the Italian trip his father always wanted to take. Initially, he takes the youth hostel route, falling in with some obnoxious Brits. Frankly, Evan can hardly stand them, but he tags along on their excursion to Puglia anyway. When he sees the town’s old world charm and Louise’s sultry beauty, he decides to stay.

Initially, Louise is adamantly opposed to any sort of long term entanglement, but Evan slowly wears down her objections. He even finds lodging and employment with Angelo, a sympathetic farmer outside of town. However, unbeknownst to Evan, Louise requires regular injections to halt her transformation into something slimy and Lovecraftian. As she eventually explains to Evan, her cyclical condition is getting increasingly severe. When it reaches its regular twenty year apex, it will be dashed dangerous for him to be around her. As a trained genetic biologist who has gone through this process a time or to before, she knows of what she speaks. Yet, Evan is not prepared to cut-and-run on their relationship just yet.

Benson & Moorhead (as the filmmaker partners Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead prefer to be billed) have really raised the dramatic standard of genre films with Spring. They take their time fully establishing the characters of Evan and Louise and the dynamics of their relationship, before introducing the exquisite bizarreness lurking below the surface. Frankly, their early courtship scenes work quite well on their own merits, separate and apart from the strange developments that follow. Yet, the particulars of who Louise is and how she continues to exist over time are well thought out and scrupulously observe their own internal logic. Indeed, the third act never feels like a tacked-on curve ball from left field, but rather the culmination of the careful groundwork laid by the cast and filmmakers.

A well-deserved award winner at last year’s Fantastic Fest, Lou Taylor Pucci is unusually compelling as Evan, offsetting his impulsive punkiness with a deeper sensitivity. He also develops some powerful romantic chemistry with Nadia Hilker’s Louise. Although much more reserved (when not writhing in the agonizing throes of her uncanny convulsions), Hilker vividly suggests the world-weariness and emotional baggage one might associate with the more romantic strain of vampires. Veteran Italian thespian also provides a rock solid moral anchor for the film as the gruff but compassionate Angelo.

Spring is a terrific film precisely because it takes its time and trusts the audience’s maturity and discernment. It takes a road not often taken in genre cinema, reaping distinctive results. Moorhead’s darkly stylish cinematography heightens the mood, both with respects to the romance and the creeping dread, perfectly serving the macabrely dreamy narrative. Very highly recommended for fans of crossover classics, Spring opens this Friday (3/20) in New York, at the Cinema Village.