Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 1:21 pm 
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Noir-love-horror tale

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have produced a pleasingly sidewise neo-noir with a difference in Spring, a polished indie film which swerves into horror and mock's rom-com with a nod to Italian pulp. Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci of Thumbsucker and the Evil Dead remake), a college dropout with a dead-end sous-chef job, goes from tenderly caring for his dying mother (who promptly dies) to being a wild bar brawler. He hurts a violent and crazy opponent who vows to get him back, and loses his job. His future is vague. The movie seems headed in a the direction of gross entrapment, Cabin-in-the-Woods stuff. But nothing is so obvious in this genre-skirting and transforming game. Somebody mentions Italy. Evan speaks of an inheritance (not too convincingly). Soon he's over there. Hanging in a little Adriatic coast town with two boozy, foul-mouthed cockneys he's joined up with, at an outdoor cafe our boy meets the girl of his dreams, Louise (Nadia Hilker), here doing genetics research at a local institution.

Pucci, a man of a dozen looks and hair styles, is almost shaven-headed. It makes him look younger, and readier. Hilker, a German actress passing for Italian, or something indeterminately European, speaks perfect youthful, colloquial, playful English. Louise is the most beautiful thing Evan has ever seen. He won't settle for the quickie she proposes, and stays around for an affair.

So he answers an ad. Days, he pays for a room by apprenticing with its owner, a widowed fruit and olive farmer (Francesco Carnelutti), who becomes sort of a surrogate dad for the orphaned young man. He sees Louise in the evenings. She has resisted, but relents. As their lovemaking and her sudden disappearances develop it emerges that she has unusual qualities, forbidding ones, which she tries to hide from him because they will turn him away. But he can't turn away. He has fallen too hard for her.

Evan is a naive and good-humored young American drifter. On the outside, he's bland and boorish. He accepts the mentoring of the farmer as charming and quaint, welcoming his "Italian lessons" but only half willing or able to learn from them. Anyway, his main project is Louise. They make love and have amusing conversations. Her secret unfolds, the outlines of it clear to us before he realizes. She is warding off frequent threats of ugly transformation with injections of some sort.

The beauty of Spring is in all the things we cannot reveal and all the genre expectations it bypasses. And of course in the magic of Nadia Hilker and the disarming sincerity of Lou Taylor Pulci, who surely must have known they'd landed plum roles in an unusual and gem-like little film, and have no trouble generating strong, playful chemistry together.

One reviewer called this "A mutant hybrid between Before Sunrise and An American Werewolf in London." It has those elements. Some think the directing duo's 2012 debut Resolution -- which I haven't seen -- included a few too many different genres and twists. But Spring establishes itself as disarmingly sui generis somehow right from the start. It never falters on the way through rowdy action to horror-monstrosity, while never losing, actually continually gaining. a sense of felt experience. Through discussing the abnormal and supernatural, this couple explore the magic of ordinary life. That sounds corny, but the lovely cinematography, picturesque setting, and delicate special effects for the scary, gross, monster moments, keep this from seeming ordinary. Certainly they discuss and explain too much. But she's not like him, and they want to talk, so that's what they have to talk about. Just like Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

Spring, 109 mins., debuted at Toronto (Vanguard section), many other festivals, including horror ones; London; and Film Comment Selects in NYC. Benson did the writing, and Moorhead did the cinematography. Drafthouse Films and FilmBuff released the film in theaters (limited)l and VOD 20 March 2015 (in NYC, at Cinema Village; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Yonkers). UK release 17 April.

See Walter Chaw's knowing and enthusiastic review and David Erlich's more reserved but wise one; a typically thorough one (by Joe Leydon) in Variety.

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