Spring (2015), directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead, was a romantic horror film in a romantic setting that leaves audiences with a feel-good conclusion. It brings together two troubled characters and allows them to fall in love over a period of time. Evan loses his mother and his job, and he packs up and goes to Italy in order to figure out his life, while Louise, a mutant, needs to find a man who could impregnate her so that she could use the embryonic stem cells to re-evolve as a human instead of as a creature.
The question many viewers would be asking while watching the film would be whether or not this is a horror movie. If I had seen this film prior to taking up this class, I wouldn’t know how to classify it – or at least, I would not be a hundred percent sure of whatever answer I would give. Spring seemed to like keeping itself vague and keeping its audience guessing before it started pushing for its more romantic horror elements. At the very beginning, we are presented with a sad yet slightly creepy scene of Evan with his dying mother, and at first, I thought the film was going to mainly be about his mother’s death, since I was watching the film without knowing anything about it. However, we soon find out that that would be the only time we see his mother, and that the scene was only necessary to explain Evan’s motivation to leave for Europe (along with him getting fired and being chased by the police). When Evan meets his friends from the hostel, we have no idea what to expect. They seem like funny people, and as they go for a drive, we start to think that maybe it was going to be a road trip movie where they meet some strange circumstances, but again, we realize we thought wrong when Evan ditches his friends and we never see them again.
I find that Spring plays on audience expectations a lot. When Evan first meets Louise, there is something suspiciously seductive about her. The viewer might suspect that she is some sort of vampire – or at least, that is what I assumed at first – but when she rejects Evan and exits the scene, we’re suddenly not sure of her role in the movie. When Evan and Louise meet again, we see that a romantic arc is going to develop and we are right, but just when we start to think that Louise is just this nice foreign girl that he’s going to fall in love with, the film then brings in the horror elements of the story.
When Louise leaves Evan the morning after they spent the night together, I thought that my suspicions of her being a vampire were right. However, when she appears later on as a reptilian creature, I get a little bit confused again until I figured that maybe she was some sort of shapeshifter – which was closer to what she actually was, but not quite. I didn’t expect her explanation for her condition at all since I’ve never heard of anything like it, but Louise does raise an interesting question when she says, “Just because you don’t know it, does it mean it’s supernatural?”
I’ve learned that horror deals with the unknown and the unfamiliar, and Louise certainly was an example of these things. There are scenes in the movie that show more gory scenes and more traditionally horror elements like the scene where an American tourist gets his penis eaten off, the scene where Louise eats a rabbit, and when Louise writes things on a wall with blood, making it look like something to do with the occult. Yet, the question remains. Are all these enough to call the movie horror? Why not science fiction or romance?
There is a struggle in defining the genre of this film since it combines elements from different genres. It is paracinema, straying from the mainstream and landing in ambivalent terrain as it attempts to separate itself from conventional horror conventions while still trying to remain horror. (Hawkins, 2002) From an affect level, Spring isn’t really a movie that would shock or scare the audience, not that a horror movie needs to do so, but the fact that it doesn’t adds to the ambivalence as well.
Here, we realize that genre may be a slippery thing. The definition of a genre relies upon people’s expectations of what a genre is, and this definition can change depending on social and cultural contexts throughout history. For example, in the 1930s, horror movies meant monster movies. However, when Hitchcock revolutionized the horror genre, horror meant something that evoked an emotion from deep within and made people scream. (Williams, 2002) Genre definitions are also dependent on how an audience views and understands the film before them. As said in Jancovich’s article, genre definitions are produced “by the ways in which films are understood by those who produce, mediate, and consume them.” (Jancovich, 2002) I see that this rings true at present. There are times when I cannot pinpoint the genre of a movie and I depend on expert reviews to figure out what it is. There are also times when I refer to what I’ve watched before, what I know about the different genres, and take it from there. Sometimes, it seems much simpler if movie trailers defined a film’s genre for you, but I also know that there are people who would still disagree with the marketers’ definition, so here we see that genre can be something subjective as well.
So is Spring a horror film? I would say that it is. It’s a different kind of horror that uses horror elements to tell a story that isn’t necessarily scary. It uses its combination of elements from different genres to enhance its story, much like what I’ve seen of Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). Just because the film doesn’t go over the top with its horror elements, does it mean it stops being horror? No, I wouldn’t think so.
Spring, for me, works as a compelling story with a sympathetic Monster, a female character that drives the narrative, and ultimately, it is a film with something different to offer to the horror genre. I think that that’s great. After all, the horror genre can only aim to keep evolving as the years go by, and that won’t happen without anything new being brought to the table.
Joan Hawkins, “Sleaze Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)
Linda Williams, “Learning to Scream.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)
Mark Jancovich, “Genre and the Audience: Genre Classifications and Cultural Distinctions in the Mediation of The Silence of the Lambs.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)