“Spring”, a Romantic Horror Film

If I have to sum up my reaction to Spring (2014) in one word, then that one word is kilig, a Tagalog word so difficult to translate. Kilig can be associated to that tingling feeling when you see your crush or when experiencing a romantic high. And yes, I still find it quite unfathomable that I left the classroom with that emotion; after all, I am in a Horror Film class. However, the more that I think about it, the more I realize that the kilig I felt is not as arcane as I thought it was.

Now, at the risk of being reductive, Spring can be considered as a romantic horror film. This can be observed in the plot of the film. Evan (played by Evil Dead’s Lou Taylor Pucci) goes on a trip to Italy and meets a girl named Louise (Nadia Hilker). Throughout the film, Evan and Louise walk, talk, hold hands, kiss, and even have a romantic tryst. Evan falls in love with Louise. However, Louise is hiding a secret condition: She is actually 2,000 years old who mutates to creatures of the earth’s biological past if she is not impregnated; she has to get pregnant every 20 years to move bodies or else, she will be doomed to transform into a creature. The only way to break this cycle is if she falls in love, releasing oxytocin and allowing her to live a normal (and mortal) life.

It is noticeable that Spring follows “moves” that are typically associated with romantic films. The film manages to go to a European location, have a meet-cute moment (when Evan awkwardly asks Louise out), and even have the mundane conversations a la Before Sunrise. Even the “secret condition” part can be associated to certain romantic films. Transpose body horror with terminal disease and you already have a standard Nicholas Sparks plot.

However, it cannot be ignored that the film embraces huge elements of horror. Louise’s transformations, ranging from being an octopus to a primitive hominid, are depicted as jarring and frightening. The film also manages to include an animal killing (Louise eating a rabbit) and a ritual (Louise writing on the walls with the blood of a rabbit), certain elements that can be associated with horror films in the ilk of The Exorcist or the first Wicker Man.

Such a combination of horror and romantic film elements make it difficult to compartmentalize Spring, and rightfully so. The film tries its best to not be constricted to genre trappings and it shows in the admittedly wonky first act. In the beginning of the film, Evan runs away from the police to escape a possible arrest and goes to Italy; there, he meets two British men whom he hangs out with. Those events happen before the film reaches for the “romantic horror” overdrive.

It can be construed that the directors, Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead,  attempt to misdirect  the viewers with those two events. The police chase thread lends the film a fugitive element, akin to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Meanwhilethe British men hangout seems like a modern-day take on “drifter” films. As stated earlier, these elements do not exactly coalesce to something substantial since they seem disjointed to the romantic horror focus. However, Benson and Moorhead may have included these scenes so as to not make the viewer expect a straight-up horror film.

Spring‘s active refusal to not be boxed in a genre hearkens to Jancovich’s essay, “Genre and the Audience”. In the essay, Jancovich cites genre function as similar to Foucault’s “author function”. Foucault states that the author function is “the product of…a need to believe that there is ‘a point…where incompatible elements are at last tied together or organized around a fundamental original contradiction'” (Jancovich, 151).  Jancovich uses Foucault’s quote as a way to say that horror films are diverse and cannot be boxed into a singular genre; the many “incompatible elements” of each horror film are organized to form a genre to categorize all of them in.

Jancovich further argues that the formulation of the horror genre has led to different camps arguing what constitutes a “true horror film”. One side believes that a “true horror film” is tied to its atmosphere while the other embraces the more exploitative, gory “excess”. These suggestions have led to a divide to the camps, with one believing that they have the superior definition of horror authenticity than the other. Jancovich then comes to a conclusion that genre cannot be delineated by what the audience says; the cinematic audience does not a singular, cohesive voice and thus, have different expectations on what constitutes genre. (Jancovich, 152-153).

Going back to Spring, the film does not let itself be bound by the expectations of the two horror film camps Jancovich detailed. The film does provide an atmosphere, especially when Louise transforms, but it eases back to its romantic setting afterwards. During the third act, Louise’s transformations are even framed as quirky and even funny (as seen in the church in Naples). The film also uses the gory “excess”. Once again, this can be seen during Louise’s transformations, especially with the scene where Evan encounters her octopus form. However, much like with the atmosphere, the film doesn’t double down on the gore and instead embraces its more romantic aspect.

If I may extrapolate from Jancovich’s observations by the two camps, they may both agree that Spring is not a “true horror film” due to it not strictly conforming to their stringent definitions. However, these camps fail to understand that they do not have the monopoly at deciding what is or what is not a horror film. If anything, they do not realize that horror film is not static, as its definition can change with social contexts and with critical re-examinations throughout history. Jancovich illustrates this with how Silence of the Lambs changed from being an authentic horror film to a prestige drama in the perception of modern viewers. Due to reviews trying to extricate the horror element of the film, Silence of the Lambs’ horror roots are removed from memory. (Jancovich, 154-158)

That does not make Silence of the Lambs any less of a horror film. As someone who viewed the film, it does have elements of the “slasher film” and has a serious sense of portent throughout the film. It even has a gory (though aesthetically pleasing) scene of Hannibal Lecter murdering his guards as he escapes.

I may have spectacularly digressed from analyzing Spring here but the point still remains. It is a horror film; just because I felt kilig instead of fear doesn’t diminish its status as such either. Ever since the reveal of Louise’s transformations, horror keeps lingering throughout the film despite its prolonged romantic detours. Its final scene even playfully suggests an ending worthy of horror films.

In the final scene set in the ruins of Pompeii (where Louise originates), Louise rests her head on Evan. Louise finally ran out of injections that inhibit her transformations; thus, her next transformation cannot be controlled anymore. This means that Evan is now at the mercy of Louise’s “monstrous” form. As the volcano near Pompeii explodes and the sun rises, Evan tells stories to Louise. The camera fixates on Evan and the audience hears the transformations of Louise. And yet, the sound slowly disappears. The camera pans out and shows that Louise didn’t transform; she finally fell in love with Evan.

Here, Spring is able to accomplish its masterstroke. It allows the audience to experience horror and yet, Benson and Moorhead turns audience expectations to its head. And suddenly, what could have been a horrific ending turns into a cathartic romantic one. In a way, the film manages then to remain a horror film before the final shot was shown.

By a rigid horror fan’s metric, Spring is nowhere close to pure, unadulterated “horror film”. However, if one just sees beyond and accepts that the possibilities of horror film is not something that can be limited, it can be observed that Spring belongs in the genre. And it also proves that horror films can, in fact, make us be aware of the joys of love.

Sources:

Jancovich, Mark (2001). “Genre and Audience: Genre Classifications and Cultural Distinctions in the Mediation of Silence of the Lambs.” Ed. Jancovich, M. Horror, the film reader. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

“Spring (2014).” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.

Image Sources:

[1]http://www.fernbyfilms.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/spring-2014-ab.jpg

[2]http://www.docrotten.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/spring-1024×431.jpg

[3]http://static.seattletimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/3b126732-d27e-11e4-adab-9cd28bc0ece8-780×324.jpg

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