Horror Cinema has been experiencing a rennaisance as of late, with indies such as THE BABADOOK and IT FOLLOWS being prime examples of this “new blood” transfusion. Now, we can add SPRING to the list of genre trailblazers.
The sophomore effort by writer/director duo, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (and the follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2012 debut, RESOLUTION ), SPRING details the whirlwind romance between Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Louise (Nadia Hilker). Evan is an American ex-pat, dealing with grief and a personal emotional tailspin. Louise is a genetics student dealing with … well, secrets of her own. Deep, dark monstrous secrets. With brilliant practical special FX by Masters FX, bolstered by the solid performances and red-hot chemistry between Pucci and Hilker as well as the sumptuous and eerie beauty of Italy, SPRING is a rare beast in every sense of the word. Weaving horror, sci-fi and romance into a cohesive and fascinating whole that’s been described as “Before Sunrise, as re-imagined by Clive Barker.” A good-enough description for a film that defies comparisons. There’s been a lot of hype for SPRING. I’m happy to report that it’s completely warranted.
I had the chance to sit down with Benson and Moorhead in advance of last Friday’s premiere screening, to talk about SPRING’s genesis, the search for their film’s young lovers, mythology and monsters.
Q: Tell us a little about the seeds for SPRING? How did the story come together?
AARON: We just made our first film, RESOLUTION, and that was just got going out of nowhere, for us. We just made it because we wanted to make a movie. We had no idea it was going to turn into anything, and it got into a decent film festival. It got into Tribeca and it kind of “launched” us. So we could actually go make another movie, maybe. That one was about the deconstruction of a very old friendship and a monster movie – even though it doesn’t really show the monster. Whereas with SPRING, we wanted to keep it in that vein, in some ways, but step forward. So we made a movie where we show the monster, but it’s not a vampire/werewolf/zombie/alien. It’s a new mythology, which is something that seems surprisingly rare. They do exist, like THE BABADOOK and IT FOLLOWS, where they are new mythologies. But people really aren’t asking for it until they get it. We also wanted to deconstruct a romance or love story. If you take the first six months of a relationship, it’s kind of what happens in SPRING, but condensed into a week, literally and metaphorically.
JUSTIN: The mechanism, by which our monster operates, was just an idea that seemed to have emotional resonance, with the way her body operates. And it seemed to be something, like with the vampire myth for example. It’s like “okay, how does a vampire stay alive or remain immortal?” “Oh, it sucks blood.” From a modern perspective, it only makes sense because you’ve been raised with that myth. It ultimately doesn’t make sense that blood gives you eternal life. We know that you can’t make Frankenstein’s Monster by putting a bunch of body parts together and applying electricity. But the way that our monster operates, it makes a certain amount of logical sense. It also simultaneously has just enough pulp to it, without crossing over into pure camp.
AARON: What’s cool about it is that it works from one central idea. Because with horror movies, it’s become very hard-to-scare. At least for Justin and me, it’s very hard to be scared, because you have to swallow a bunch of very arbitrary rules. You know, even with vampires, where it’s very much in the public consciousness, but there are a lot of very arbitrary rules. “They sleep in a coffin, they can turn into a bat and they have to drink blood and you can’t see their reflection.” Where are these coming from? So, for ours, there’s one simple rule which is nature-based in many ways and, in some ways, science-based. It all spins off from that one point and it all makes sense from there without being “ok, so what other rules can we apply to make a monster?” Or things like the new “monster rules” will end up servicing where they want the story to go.
Q: When you were writing, were you conscious of maintaining a balance between the supernatural/fantastic elements of the story with the reality-based dramatic aspects?
JUSTIN: We never really thought about that, during the script phase or the making of the movie. One thing we are very careful about with the “fantasy” elements is that we get them right. It’s less thinking about exact proportions and more thinking instinctually, that it seemed right to do it in the script and that we were doing it correctly.
AARON: I think that thinking about it as a balance dichotomizes the idea, as if to say “oh, there’s a love story AND there’s a horror story” and it’s like, “no, no, these are inextricable from each other.” People will say you can remove the horror elements and you’ll still have a wonderful romance, but no you won’t. You will have a boring romance with two people who, you know, get along really well. The thing is, the whole problem of their love story, which makes it interesting, comes from the sci-fi element.
JUSTIN: They actually can’t meet without the monster. It’s why she’s so aggresive with Evan.
AARON: That was part of the development of the script, changing the way that they met, to make it where it only works because of that. And it also increases the fact that Evan is in danger, but not making it like a crazy, bloody chase. But he is in danger, and that’s true metaphorically, literally and emotionally, and it was about making sure that comes across visually.
Q: Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker have such an amazing rapport on screen, which is so important since so much of the film’s success stands or falls on selling their relationship. How did you know they were your Evan and Louise?
JUSTIN: Lou was our first time casting like grown-ups, when you go through an agency and manager and all that. When you do that, you typically don’t get an audition. But we watched Lou in THUMBSUCKER, and the thing you see in that movie is that he’s just really good at the type of humour that we like. He’s good with naturalistic acting, which we needed, but we also need actors with humour. He does so much with “uncomfortable”, and there was a “fish out of water” aspect to it. So he was perfect for this.
AARON: Casting Nadia was going back to our roots of “not casting like grown-ups”. I’m going to make this sound a bit epic, because it’s true. We had been searching for Nadia, basically. We saw a lot of people and we could not have cast any of them, except for Nadia. So we did the grown-up route and we basically got sent “Tara Reid” a thousand times over. And we were “well, this just doesn’t work at all. Do they have an accent? Are there even any people with accents on the roster? Or that don’t look like they are from California?” So in a fit of desperation, we sent out an e-mail to every European producer and director we ever met and we had done an international tour with RESOLUTION, so it was actually quite a bit. We bascially sent the description of Nadia out and she actually came back on a couple of peoples’ lists. They all said “she hasn’t done anything, but she’s going to be a star.” and the was what everybosy said. So we Skyped with her, and she was great. Pulling the trigger was scary because hadn’t met her and she was a little untested, which really wasn’t that much of a fear for us, but so much of the movie rested on her. Most movies don’t actually rest on the lead. Most movies have so many different roles where they can come in and come out, an it’s not a big deal. As long as they can execute the role, it’s fine. But with Nadia and Lou, it just had to work. What a boring movie it would be if they were just okay.
Q: Both SPRING and your previous film, RESOLUTION, have been called “Lovecraftian”, with other names such as Cronenberg and Barker also being bandied about? Were they, or any other creators, an inspiration for you and your films?
AARON: I’ll be really honest. We try really, really hard not to take from other people. Or if we do, it’s a reactionary thing, where it’s like “oh, we can’t do that, we have to do it some other way, because it’s already been done before”. There’s people that will give us license, but it’s never like, hey, let’s do it like CHILDREN OF MEN, which is one of my favourite movies, but it’s like a very soft touch. It makes us really sad if someone says “man, that shot, like the one in PULP FICTION, you guys nailed it, just like PULP FICTION.” We’d be like “Shit!”
JUSTIN: We kind of do the opposite of “homage” movies. Just as much as we can. We get comparisons all the time to Lovecraft, obviously, as well as Clive Barker. And I guess it’s because we’re dwelling in the areas of dark myth. That’s the suggestion we want to make, anyways. It doesn’t exist. But if it did, it would be the kind of stuff you can’t Wikipedia, so that is something that runs through everything we do.
SPRING is in Toronto for a limited run until May 21st at Cineplex Yonge and Dundas , as well as a recently-added screening in Montreal on May 21st, courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada and Raven Banner. Keep watching for more dates across Canada as they are announced.