Early into Spring, a young man, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), does something that young men almost never do in genre movies: He second guesses the intentions of a gorgeous stranger who wants to take him to bed. Dude has good reason to be skeptical. What, pray tell, could Louise (Nadia Hilker), the mysterious knockout who makes an instant pass at him, see in a dazed American tourist, especially one with the ordinary looks of that geek from Thumbsucker? Is she a prostitute? Or does she just want to rob a horny, gullible interloper? The fact that this European dream girl barely bats an eye as he rudely runs down the list of possible explanations only lends credence to his suspicions.
Louise, as it turns out, does have ulterior motives, but they’re much stranger than Evan could possibly have imagined. To say more would be to spoil the fun of Spring, whose peculiar stitching together of a walk-and-talk indie love story and a gooey creature feature deserves a less generic title. Directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, the latter of whom also wrote the screenplay, previously collaborated on Resolution, a crazy quilt of horror-movie clichés. Here, they’ve performed a cleaner and less self-conscious embroidery—in part because the two are combining fewer components, but also because they’ve found a way to make the blend feel oddly organic. There’s real proof in their handiwork that affixing one kind of movie to another can improve both.
For a while, the film operates like a common gabfest travelogue, intoxicated by the fantasy of meeting someone new somewhere new. Still mourning the death of his mother, Evan impulsively hops a flight to Italy, then even-more-impulsively accompanies some Welsh party animals on a road trip to a coastal tourist town, where he first locks eyes with Louise. (Their wordless meeting is captured in a winding, spectacular, slow-motion take, the camera following close behind Evan and his companions, its attention drawn away periodically by the sights and sounds of the city.) Securing a date instead of a quick hookup, Evan discovers that Louise possesses both beauty and brains: A student in evolutionary genetics, she speaks more languages than she can count, and seems to possess an inexhaustible reservoir of knowledge, tossing off tidbits on art and history as the two generally behave like characters in a Richard Linklater movie.
Spring never abandons this leisurely pace, even after hints of the supernatural—flowers blooming in fast forward, mangled animal carcasses—begin to appear along its cobblestone path. Throughout, Moorhead and Benson undercut their breezy holiday romance with a vague sense of foreboding, most clearly invoked during topsy-turvy aerial shots of the scenery. They also eventually indulge in some impressive, presumably budget-conscious special effects, delivering the slimy goods at odd intervals. But unlike, say, one of Eli Roth’s vacations-gone-wrong, Spring doesn’t treat the sightseeing bits as prelude to total carnage. Horror invades the proceedings, but it doesn’t hijack them. The film continues to zig where others might zag.
What it doesn’t quite do is make a convincing case that Evan, a faintly dull everydude fighting his way through a quarter-life crisis, could successfully woo a cosmopolitan goddess like Louise—even, or perhaps especially, after the full truth about her comes to light. (She claims he makes her laugh. The guy must save his sparkling wit for the scenes between scenes.) But if the emotional connection between these lovers often feels as fantastical as the actual moments of fantasy, Spring still earns major points for letting their relationship—and Evan’s curiosity, which the audience shares—chart the course of its final minutes. A film about taking chances takes its own big chance, risking ridicule with a third act that’s at once sweet, amusing, lackadaisical, and more than a little preposterous. High on their own premise, Moorhead and Benson keep their story going past the point where most movies of this sort would end. Like their characters, and the viewers, they just have more questions.