United States. Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 2014. Starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker. 109 minutes.

Spring is in the air and when it comes, romance blooms. Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) finds both in Italy after fleeing the States in the wake of his mother’s death and a streetgang-enraging bar fight. He meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a pretty young college student who’s pretty insistent about limiting their relationship to a single one-night stand. Undaunted by her protests, Evan ignores her apparent fear of commitment and insists on courting her, until he finds out her terrible secret: she’s not entirely human. That’s the basic premise of Spring, the latest from filmmaking duo Justin Benson (who also wrote the screenplay) and Aaron Moorhead.

Their previous effort, Resolution, was a sort of mumblecore reimagining of The Cabin in the Woods, and the filmmakers have carried over its low-fidelity vibe. This isn’t an epic love story or horror tale, it’s a simple indie romance. Even those elements of the production that you might think would detract from an intimate vibe, such as the exotic locale and frequently flamboyant camera work, contribute to it instead. Comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy probably aren’t too far off the mark.

Unfortunately, the story often feels aimless, lacking much in the way of direction. This could be by design–the plot’s loose structure does reflect Evan’s impulsive, spontaneous attitude towards life in Europe–but I rarely felt as if Benson and Moorhead knew where the film was going. The film’s last half hour is particularly problematic, suffering from a lack of compelling material and some weird tonal shifts (one sequence in a church comes off much funnier and more farcical than it should). Other critics have praised the ending, but I personally found it unsatisfying, an example of “ambiguity for its own sake” familiar from the ironically-named Resolution.

Other than the photography–it really is a gorgeous picture–the real reasons to watch Spring are the characters and performances. Benson’s script draws Evan and Louise simply, providing the actors with a sketch (Evan’s family issues, Louise’s devotion to the rational and scientific) and give Pucci and Hilker enough room to inhabit the characters. The two leads have an easy chemistry with each other and many scenes, even those with heavy foreshadowing, seem improvised. The leads’ credbility is crucial to the film’s success, particularly in the case of Pucci, who needs to convince the audience he’s in love with this woman he’s only known for days…and preserve that feeling after he finds out she kills people in fits of madness and probably has an ink sac. For all the other nits I pick with the story, the basic theme–that despite the horrific aspects of Louise’s existence, she’s human, not some sort of Lovecraftian monster, comes through–and the leads are a large part of that.

The supporting performances are also excellent, with the highlights being Jeremy Gardner (writer/director/star of The Battery) as Evan’s drunken, doped-up best friend and Francesco Carnelutti as an Italian farmer who takes Evan on as a farmhand.

While its success isn’t as decisive as one might hope, Spring is nevertheless an interesting take on the concept of the supernatural romance, and is especially recommended for audiences who like their horror intimate and subdued.

Spring poster

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