If by any chance you’ve heard a summary of “Spring,” you’re probably aware of some plot details that might, in some people’s minds, constitute twists. “Spring” begins with a rather effective gut punch in the form of the protagonist mother’s death, which triggers a downward spiral as Evan (Lou Pucci) gets involved in a bar fight and evades local police.
To escape the pitfall he finds himself in, he flees California and seeks recovery in Italy. There he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a coquettish student whose wit and beauty entrance him into finding a job as a nearby farmer’s apprentice.
This first act is uncharacteristic of horror films. The characters are well established, at least more so than the majority of their genre counterparts. The scenery is shockingly beautiful, as the cinematography makes the most of its dream-like setting: an isolated coastal town with brick-laid streets, art museums, corner cafes and oceanic vistas.
A few of the shots make the film resemble a Travel Channel special, but the high production value is nevertheless pleasant. Finally, and maybe most importantly, Pucci and Hilker manage to successfully cultivate a convincing and endearing romance on screen. The interactions between them manage to feel like more than a typical meet cute.
Fair warning: we’re over a third of the way through the film’s progression at this point, and we haven’t even been introduced to the main conflict: Louise is plagued by a supernatural illness that occasionally forces her to transform into nightmarish beasts. The execution of this twist, in its spontaneity and non-sequitur nature, is obviously meant to shock the audience. Unfortunately it does so to such a degree that it jars us as well.
As hard as the film tries to stay relatable, likening the situation to common problems like teenage pregnancy, it’s not entirely successful. The chemistry between our two protagonists was strong enough in the first half to preserve my interest through any flaws, but the romance became so glaringly strange in the latter acts that it lost a bit of its appeal. The film tries to make up for this with cringe-worthy humor.
Evan calls an old friend to share his troubles but instead finds him too stoned to communicate. Louise finds her monstrous side occurring more frequently during dates, leading to sloppy slapstick scenarios. The realistic depth of the characters is diminished for the sake of this humor, often making them spout comically unlikely dialogue.
Why a film would sacrifice its dramatic resonance for quirky comedy is befuddling, but it probably finds its roots in the film’s indie nature. Just as mainstream blockbusters are plagued by their tendency to subscribe to formula or cliche, independent films can be negatively affected by their own attempts to challenge cinematic conventions. Strangeness is of course not an inherent fault, but strangeness for strangeness’ sake usually feels needless.
I don’t mean to give the impression that this is a bad film. It believes itself to be a bit more clever than it is, it loses track of its strengths and it certainly ends anticlimactically, but these are criticisms of what makes for a genuinely entertaining creature feature. For better or worse, even the flaws of “Spring” are unique.