Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #524
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 5, 2014 (TIFF)
Sub-Genre: Love Story
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $49,970
Running Time: 109 minutes
Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Producers: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, David Clarke Lawson Jr.
Screenplay: Justin Benson
Special Effects: Jack Firman
Cinematography: Aaron Moorhead
Score: Jimmy LaValle, Sigur Rós
Editing: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Michael Felker
Studio: XYZ Films
Distributor: Drafthouse Films, FilmBuff
Stars: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Vanessa Bednar, Shane Brady, Francesco Carnelutti, Vinny Curran, Augie Duke, Jeremy Gardner, Holly Hawkins
Suggested Audio Jukebox
 Kath Bloom “Come Here”
 Jimmy LaValle “Spring”
The getting to know you phase of a new relationship is one fraught with peril. Initial introductions may have been encouraging and, a certain chemistry, undeniable but sooner or later we all reach the point where we will have no choice but to stand before our partners naked, both emotionally and quite literally, and request their acceptance. Precious few of us are fully satisfied with our bodies and ordinarily possess at least one imperfection that we know could be a deal breaker come the inevitable big reveal. This is the first real test of whether or not we are compatible with our suitors and also the moment that we find out their true strength of character. Will they overlook the webbed toes? Maybe they’ll find the third nipple charming? Or perhaps they will smile politely, while attempting to find an excuse to postpone coitus and run for the hills. It’s an acid test for sure.
Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s sophomore effort Spring tackles such eventualities and provides a rather handsome backdrop for their blossoming love story in the process. Set almost entirely on location in Italy, it tells the tale of a young couple approaching the all-important show and tell and highlights the struggles they face along the way. Described by many as a supernatural take on Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, their film performed decidedly well at festivals and has since had to rely on word of mouth to find its audience. Perhaps the largest potential deception for viewers will be the fact that it is not a horror film per se, despite first impressions suggesting it be very much a genre piece.
Straight off the bat, in a remarkably poignant opening, we meet Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) in the worst kind of compromised position. He is sitting alongside his mother’s death-bed, clutching the frail woman’s hand, and knowing full well that this exchange isn’t destined to end well. She is in the final throes of progressive cancer and ready to take that short stroll towards the light, while her forlorn son heads the other way into darkness. It perfectly sets the tone and keeps things decidedly brief and matter of factual, allowing Pucci’s face to narrate his anguish, something the young actor achieves magnanimously. Any one of us who have been subjected to burying our own loved ones will feel involved in his process.
The next thing Moorhead and Benson reveal is the moderately less sombre setting of the local bar where Evan plies his trade. Searching for the answers to his despair in the bottom of a tumbler with stoner friend Tommy (Jeremy Gardner) providing scant consolation, he soon finds himself participating in a one-sided bar brawl with the local meth-head gang banger and, after making his point in no uncertain terms, finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place. Tommy isn’t exactly the voice of prudence but he does throw one decent suggestion into the pot. Maybe it’s time for Evan to find his center, travel to pastures new before his actions return to haunt him. With the local law enforcement sniffing about his front porch and little other reason to stay, he dusts off his passport, fills his rucksack with barely enough provisions to cover an overnight stay, and heads off to Europe on the first available outward flight.
Given what he is leaving behind, Evan naturally befriends the first mindless British braggarts he can gravitate towards and heads off on an excess-fuelled cross-country road trip to beautiful coastal Tuscan pastures new. After frittering a few brain cells with his inebriated buddies, he spots possibly the most beautiful woman he has ever laid his peepers on. A vision of deep red delectation, the wind is knocked promptly from his sails and Evan knows that it is time to step away from the white noise and make his own introduction.
Doing so with typically over-confident bravura and banking on Stateside charm to crack this dainty nut, his best efforts to unseal the deal fall flat and Louise (Nadia Hilker) provides just enough flirty return on his investment to suggest he may just be in with a shot.
Time to settle and, with resources all but dwindled, put his back into earning some keep to buy Evan the time he needs for phase two of his pincer movement. There’s a local vineyard nearby run by old-timer Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti) and free room and board should he be prepared to work for it and the fairly decisive language barrier appears to suit both parties at this point so he rolls up both sleeves and grafts. Of course, it is all just a means to an end.
Number one of one priorities is finding his mysterious lady in red once again and reminding her of the sweet unassuming magnetism that circulates between them. Spring packs rather a lot into its middle act as this is a whirlwind romance after all. There is scant time for tenderness and, instead, it plays out as quick-fire getting to know you exercise as we move towards that inevitable crunch.
It would be fair to assume that Louise has issues. Blowing hotter and colder than Pyro performing deep-throated fellatio on Ice Man, and ranging from soundly baffling to downright incomprehensible, she is clearly harboring intelligence and poor Evan really doesn’t know the half of it. Moorhead and Benson have some fun with the burgeoning secret, affording us the heads-up that our budding Romeo has coming to him but doesn’t procrastinate when the time is right.
His reaction is critical to our willingness not to run to the hills on his behalf and the moment speaks volumes for his character. Up until now, we too have been a little in the dark and our leading man has undoubtedly felt the colder of the two. However, Pucci is a dab-hand at emoting warmth, moreover, he knows when to do so sparingly. This is a journey after all.
His voyage of enlightenment is surprisingly intimate and regular fragmented exchanges with his sponsor Angelo helps to give his character emotional heft. Meanwhile, Hilker finds the perfect vantage to pitch from and, like Evan, we desire nothing else than to see this through to its end, no matter how bittersweet that may be.
Spring is required to sell its core concept of love in its closing act and 109 minutes feels to be shifting past rather swiftly. However, what it achieves is quite startling. We’re done with the horror and happy for it to be used purely for occasional comical interlude purposes. Pucci and Hilker hold us close and we feel the warm glow of their fast tracking devotion, underscored by Jimmy LaValle’s stunningly haunting and hopeful composition.
I feel obliged to speak a little more about Pucci as this young man is heading in the very best direction and, the truth is, it was his name being attached that secured my one-way plane ticket in the first place. I adored Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead reboot for all manner of reasons, but none were so strong as his spirited and tormented turn as Eric. Ever since then, I have been waiting for a film like Spring to arrive, comforted in the knowledge that another director will cast the correct light and shade across his features. He is flat-out formidable here and matched stride for stride by the object of his and our affection in a unified stroll through the cherry blossom.
Spring is very much a tale of three phases. We initially feel a little out in the cold, before warming our hands on the fire a little and trying not to burn our fingers in the process. However, it is the last leg of our Italian expedition that we truly feel the heat and Moorhead, Benson and their two leads come into their own.
The photography is stunning, incorporating wide-angled shots and overhead vantage to tantalize our retinas, bringing it in where necessary and providing ideal visual companionship throughout. On this evidence, I would suggest these four players reunite a second time. Sunrise took ten years to become Sunset and another ten to reach Midnight. On this evidence, Summer should be a beautiful thing.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Jack Firman’s creation is placed under the microscope during an illuminating middle act and stands up well to the scrutiny. Whilst never particularly gory, there is meat to masticate, and a little quick fire splatter that will have us locking up our pets and zipping up our junk. Hilker wears red decidedly well and looks just as dandy in nothing at all. I’m not convinced about the tendrils and, under a certain light, she could do with a little feeding up, but I’m with Evan.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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