Love, it’s said, conquers all. Perhaps Virgil might have reconsidered such a bold statement had he known what American tourist Evan would face on the Italian coastline. Spring, from acclaimed independent filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, lovingly combines genres to take a very familiar world and turn it into something discomfortingly magical.

Magic seems a long way off when we first meet Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci). Sat mutely by the side of his gaunt, dying mother, he witnesses her last moments in a stale bedroom. Then he’s in a bar doing what many over the years have done in times of hardship – drinking. An unexpectedly violent encounter leads him out the country on extended furlough while the heat dies down.

And now Spring starts to bloom. Cast away in a pretty seaside town, he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a student running an extended genetic study in this isolated backwater. Walking in slow motion across the central square, their eyes meet. Later at a bar she invites him back with her. He declines, preferring a proper date. This is romance after all. But its romance built on the most mistaken of foundations.

Benson, who also wrote the screenplay, and Moorhead clearly know their horror conventions. Playfully flirting with some of the most memorable imagery of the past century of horror cinema, the film gradually reveals a deep secret buried in Louise. Brief glimpses of mythical creatures are quickly hushed up as Evan draws closer. Early on, romantic iconography takes centre stage. When the two start to date, dead animals take its place.

Spring isn’t out to scare. Not really. Threat floats in the air but its love that lingers. Having carefully built their parameters – attractive foreign location, mysterious beauty, battered but decent American tourist and a monstrous secret – the film shifts into a love story.

There’s a striking originality in the tale underscored by an impressive use of the postcard setting. Occasionally the camera gets a little carried away enjoying rich blue waves, glittering coastline and calming cobbled streets. More often it’s hanging on the edge watching with wry detachment as Evan edges closer to a secret he probably doesn’t want to discover.

Set piece semi-comic scares all hit the target – particularly the death of an American tourist, and a wonderfully tongue in cheek discovery as Louise reveals herself complete with twitching tentacle. As fun as these moments are, the real joy comes in the dialogue. Fluid and fascinating, Evan and Louise flirt and hector, delve into supressed pain and explore the world around them. It’s realistic, compelling, funny and heart-breaking in turn, a reminder that not every word spoken in cinema has to be bland exposition or hyperbolic emotionalising.

The magical sheen covering the film wears off a little as an ending slightly too pat arrives. It doesn’t really matter. For the most part this is charming, constantly surprising fun, laced with flirtatious romance that should be out of place yet isn’t. Spring is a delight. Omnia vincit amor Virgil, omnia vincit amor indeed.

Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Cast: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker
Runtime: 109 mins
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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