2015 - 109 minutes

Rated: NR

Directed by: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

Written by: Justin Benson

Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti, Nick Nevern, Jeremy Gardner, Vinny Curran

An aimless 20-something American heads overseas. He meets a beautiful, mysterious woman in a tourist town on the Italian coast. It’s clear she has secrets, and though some (huge) truths are withheld, she tells the love-struck young man early in their courtship that she hasn’t, and won’t, lie to him. So it is with Spring, a shapeshifting horror-romance that reveals itself slowly and organically, never using cheap misdirection to drive tension or drama. The film wears its heart, and its horrors, on its sleeve and earns genuine emotion by way of the fantastic.

Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) loses his mother, his job, and is being sought by the cops after a bar fight. With little thought he jets off to Italy, eventually making his way to the coast. He spies Louise (Nadia Hilker) in a quaint courtyard, standing out in her red dress. Deciding to stick around for a while, Evan takes a job at an olive farm as he seeks Louise’s attention. What begins as wooing akin to the Before trilogy, with musings on love and culture and drinking wine in the moonlight, changes course as the reasons for Louise’s fear of intimacy are exposed.

Revealing much more would detract from discoveries that are equally unsettling and intriguing. There are hints throughout that prepare us for what’s to come – a blurry face in a digital photo, anatomy books, Louise’s job as a medical researcher and her vast knowledge, animal deaths – but no handholding. At least, not until a third act that somewhat arduously explains the situation in an attempt to clear up FAQs. Thankfully, writer Justin Benson and his co-director Aaron Moorhead consistently present the overarching themes relating to fate, love, and sacrifice in a way that provokes deeper thought.

Spring is aesthetically stunning. It always seems as though there are meaningful things to behold in back alleys and craggy beaches. God’s-eye views of the village are at once beautiful and foreboding, part of the creation of an ethereal ambiance that doesn’t feel forced. This is very much a real place, never artificial, though it’s been invaded by a supernatural entity. Effects play on familiar monster imagery, but are given a humanoid spirit that aids with suspension of disbelief.

Perhaps the hardest thing to wrap one’s head around is how a creature like Louise could be disarmed by ordinary Evan. Though his averageness may actually be the draw, it’s never immediately apparent why Louise gives him a chance. I suppose we just have to trust that the love letter (unseen by us) Evan pens for her at their first dinner is the most remarkable valentine ever. By nature, Hilker has the meatier role and nails the charm and the mystery, while Pucci is perfectly adequate at playing nondescript.

But this is kismet, and Evan’s side of the providence is set up in his journey that leads from empty existence to something and someone to exist for. His transformation, though not as outward as Louise’s, is perceptible enough to balance the body horror with passions, hopes, and fears that are very much of this world.

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