The suspense and pleasure of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s talking-and-tentacles horror romance Spring lies in discovering what shape the film is going to take.
The story of a handsome American ne’er-do-much (Lou Taylor Pucci) who jaunts off to Bologna after losing his job as a bar cook, Spring blossoms slowly: Boy meets girl, girl mentions that her medication means she has to shield her skin from the sunlight, boy starts spotting dead animals and albino snakes among the picturesque ruins.
At first, the film feels like a scruffy, foul-mouthed horror-comedy, one eager to showcase its starlets’ breasts and its FX team’s bloody grossouts. But as the American comes closer to discovering his new lover’s secrets — she’s played by Nadia Hilker as a pained and alluring puzzle — the pace slackens, the characters click, and Spring dares to become about its people rather than the usual splattering monsters.
The last half-hour is winsome and lovely despite following a grandly Cthulhoid body-horror set piece; Moorhead served as cinematographer in addition to co-director, and his Italian nightscapes and sunrises are captured with matter-of-fact beauty — he shoots it like you’d see it if you were there, not in that magic-hour, light-gilded manner of most films of Americans in love abroad.
Same goes for the occasional squishy horror stuff: By the end, it just seems part of this world, which turns out to be our world, which is more thrilling than most fantastical ones.