We live in a post-romance era, when sentiment or lust is mistaken for the sensations of the heart. Yet co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring describes a love and a movie for the ages. Horror is not a genre one thinks of when considering great love stories and yet that’s what the directors bring us in a most unexpected and moving way. The movie begins with Evan’s mother, emaciated from cancer, passing away. The camera focuses on their hands, Evan ( Lou Taylor Pucci) holding his mother’s, their connection suddenly severed by death. After the funeral, Evan gets into a bar fight and has to flee the country before the police find him. The opening shows an aimless man, trapped in his own grim existence. The metaphor of his impending arrest resonantes because Evan’s life is already arrested. Much like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, America is a prison of sorrow and violence, a red, white, and blue fist squeezing him. Evan decides to travel to Italy and the movie changes into a travelogue.
Running into two guys from Great Britain, feelers of trepidation stretch out in the narrative. Evan is the stranger, the lone American in a Europe he doesn’t understand. Knowing the genre, we feel cautious for Evan. Violence doesn’t feel too far away until he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker). Evan is immediately attracted to her. She’s mysterious, worldly where Evan is sheltered, a violent babe in the woods. Obviously, Louise has a dark secret and here we fall again into the familiar trope of the dangerous woman. Visions of the antagonist of Takashi Miike’s Audition come to mind and the horrible ending of that picture. Louise is monstrous, a grotesque creature, a timeless mythical entity that sheds its body, needing to feed on other cells to continue living. She tries to fight her mutation with drugs, but the monster is always in danger of coming out.
The viewer’s concern grows as Evan pursues a relationship with Louise. Yet the film fractures this expectation when Evan stumbles upon Louise in her most monstrous state. Sensing something is wrong, he breaks into her apartment and discovers her writhing on the floor, a squid-like creature. A monster movie has certain beats. We expect the protagonist to confront this evil and dispatch it, after a lot of jump scares and gore. This is where Spring is so affecting and beautiful. Evan does not run from Louise or try to kill the hidden monstrosity within her. Evan’s violence and grief well inside him. The trip to Europe is as much about losing himself as finding out who he is. Louise’s history is a long one. She’s lived for millennia, constantly hiding her true self, always using others to change her identity and yet lonely for the interaction. Her despair parallels Evan’s in America. Louise’s life is a continues cycle of violence and loss. She realizes the vampire’s curse, everything falls to ash. Louise knows she will kill Evan, that’s the way it is because it has always been that way. Yet they stay with each other. Louise has studied her condition and knows there’s a possibility that if she finds love and safety, her stem cells will revert to the adult form and she will become a normal human who will one day die. Yet she hesitates because of the price of mortality, the cost of watching the one you love die. The last part of the movie is strangely tense, yet romantic. Evan appears willing to give his life to convince Louise that she loves him. Louise, intoxicated with someone who knows her dark secret and still cares for her, can’t resist him.
The final scene is beautiful. Louise knows she will change soon, and that Evan should leave her, but they decide to watch the sunrise. She rests her head on his lap and the camera focuses on Evan, a blissful look in his eyes as the sun slowly rises behind him. Louise asks him to talk about why it’s good to live a life where one day you will die. Evan describes the transience of life, how you have to make each sunrise and sunset count because there are only so many you have. True love is not the tacit acceptance of a pedestal or the quiet interaction of bodies. Love in Spring is knowing the past has shaped you and discovering someone who loves that shape. The horror is not Louise’s curse, but living in solitude, knowing others as only a means to sustain herself without a connection. Evan’s monstrosity is mapping the world only by what he’s lost, and the things he must outrun.
Evan and Louise are mythic lovers and yet they are us. The question becomes can they accept each other for who they are, what they’ve done, who they will become with time? The answer in Spring is understated, a mere second before the credits. Death is not some ravening spirit here. Monsters have hearts and more importantly, the monster may be us. Our pain and grief, our inability to believe the myth that one fine day love will change the world. Spring says the myth is true, real as the wind and the sea, essential as blood and breath. Love will set us free.