Romantic horror gets a lacklustre rap. There’s romantic dramas, romantic comedies, supernatural horror, psychological horror, horror comedies, all of these have an abundance of entries in the highest-grossing/critically acclaimed/the great unwashed love it categories. But when it comes to the fusion of a moving tale of two lost souls finding one another with blood, gore and demons, the superficial dissonance of it all proves wholly unimpressive for the average audience. I would say Cronenberg’s 1986 adaptation of The Fly remains the genre’s reigning monarch. Most of the other choice entries are too twee, unimaginative, insipid even (Twilight, Ghost and Life After Beth have a long yellow sheet of charges to answer for).
But, you roll the dice, sometimes you get exactly the right numbers, as is the case with Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead’s ambitious and powerful body horror Spring. Upon hearing some very encouraging reviews, I went in hopeful yet apprehensive, having the awful, defeatist gut feeling that this may have been just another game of romantic-tropes bingo with shoehorned horror elements. I was terribly off-base, and couldn’t have been more thankful for it. What followed was a naturalistically performed, wrly amusing and very tightly written story, genuinely shocking and yes, exceptionally moving.
I would say that the key thing the other movies got wrong was a lack of a truly alienated protagonist. After all, a strong commonality in romance and horror is a principal character who is somehow crestfallen and aimless; they’ve lost their ‘species-essence’ as Marx would put it (no, don’t worry, the review isn’t going anywhere near there, it’s fine). Nowhere to go, nothing to orient themselves towards, no connection with those closest to them, let alone anybody else. This is a recognisable starting point for a classical horror/romance hero/heroine, before something incredibly sweet and life-affirming/absolutely diabolic befalls them. Such is the case with poor Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci). He’s just lost his mother to cancer, and also his job, following a rather nasty and avoidable bout of fisticuffs with a customer in the restaurant he waits at.
Sojourning to Italy in order to clear his mind and slowly formulate a game plan for the rest of his life (what else are you doing on holiday?), he takes a job and lodgings at a local farm, and eventually crosses paths with Louise (Nadia Hilker), a gorgeous, charismatic mystery of a woman. She initially rebuffs his attempts at friendliness, before finally relenting to an unsafe one-nighter, followed by a strangely ambivalent to-and-fro with regards to getting to know him, and, much to his delight, her aloofness gives way to a slowly trusting warmth. And then shit gets seriously weird. Evans starts to notice Louise’s heterochromatic eye condition and long, dark locks on women in various paintings and book covers about town. There is also the question of where she slips off to so suddenly and impatiently in the dead of night, with some ungodly something-or-other to shock the locals in the morning….
Whatever guesses are rolling around in your head at this moment, I would confidently bet they are dollars-to-donuts incorrect, as were mine, which is never anything if not refreshing, the predictable-sounding synopsis of a film that isn’t actually mired in anything resembling predictability. Benson & Moorhead have accomplished something something special here: a highly original and moving riff on mortality, second chances, the finding of purpose. It is bereft of sentimentalism and chunk-blowing chick-lit formula, with no archetype syndrome in sight. Evan and Louise are just regular people, as true to one another as their circumstances will allow them to be, their motivations as individuals and the vibes they bounce off of each other proving to be just as captivating as Louise’s very strange secrets. I recall a comment somewhere about this film being what you’d expect if David Cronenberg and Richard Linklater had a lovechild, and I can only agree fervently. It was finally proof that horror and romance (and their respective legions) do not need to be at opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum. With the right touch, they are sympatico.