Sunday, 7 April 2013

I Knew Y'all Were Special: Spring Breakers Review

"Spring Break, y’all. Spring Break forever.” So James Franco’s hoodlum Alien drawls intermittently throughout Spring Breakers, the latest from former enfant terrible Harmony Korine. Fascinating and repulsive in equal measure, Franco’s total transformation perfectly embodies the core conflict running through this ode to teen hedonism, arguably Korine’s most accessible film yet. Yet whilst Spring Breakers may lack the fangs that marked his breakthrough script for Kids, it has just as much to say about teen culture in America.

 From its very opening sequence, as Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” blares over a montage of beach debauchery, Korine makes clear his complex fascination with this staple of US college life. Quickly slipping from enticement into outright garishness, the scene sets a quietly nightmarish undertone that will pervade throughout the rest of the film, even as it seems complicit in its protagonists’ total and utter worship of the spring break experience. So important is spring break in the American university experience that it has even become pervasive UK pop culture, despite it having no clear analogue on our less-than-sunny shores. Its legendary status is (partly) what forces Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) to hold up their local fried chicken shack with squirt guns and a mallet, quickly gathering up enough cash to get the next bus out of stale dorm life and straight into the bleached streets of Florida. However, their escape into a haven of sun-drenched parties takes a sudden turn when they’re arrested at a rave – only to fall into the lecherous, blood-splattered hands of Alien.

Many have billed what follows as a “Crime Thriller”, yet the descent of the girls into a world of hardcore drugs and gang warfare functions merely as the final stop on a journey into total and utter escape, with Alien’s words coming to form the mantra to a single, extended moment of pseudo-spirituality. Whilst Korine forces the point somewhat in having Gomez’s Faith be a devout Christian looking for her own piece of heaven, the reverence these characters put into an increasingly hollow institution renders them with a pathetic charm – one that Korine seems quite happy to admit he is also intoxicated with.

Spring Break becomes an accepted safety-zone where people may live out their fantasies, and what these fantasies are offers a rather bleak outlook on modern culture. Some critics have compared Spring Breakers with Korine’s earlier, far more experimental work Trash Humpers, with them both presenting complementary sides to the American landscape, and the reality of the so-called “American Dream” (this is arguably a defining theme in Korine’s entire oeuvre), yet the growth of Spring Break into a modern-day Bacchanalia places it far more comfortably in the realms of Donna Tartt’s hit Campus novel, The Secret History. Yet where the promise of no consequences proves to be as fantastical as the hedonism in that story, here, the fantasy really is allowed to exist in perpetuity.

The film also has its fair share of influence from Gaspar Noe’s master class in Nihilism, Enter the Void; less surprising given that Noe’s frequent collaborator Benoit Debie was the DoP for Korine’s fuzzy neon world. With its frequent use of jump cuts and looping dialogue, the film takes on a hazy, dream-like tone that well expresses the mindset of Candy and Brit, finished with a sleazy soundtrack from Skrillex and Midnight Movie scorer du jour, Cliff Martinez. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re at all interested in cinema, Spring Breakers is worth a peep at, if only to see James Franco’s remarkable performance.