If Richard Linklater attempted a remake of Val Lewton’s “Cat People,” the end result might resemble “Spring,” an intriguing oddity about an attractive couple who meet in a scenic European locale and quickly chat their way into a close bond, but find their ties tested by the young woman’s propensity for periodically moonlighting as something fantastical. Co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (“Resolution,” “V/H/S: Viral”), working from a script credited to Benson, do a clever job of entwining elements of budding romance, mounting dread and indolent vacation in their leisurely paced, handsomely produced indie feature. And while the mix might not be to every taste, venturesome cineastes may heed appreciative reviews and sample “Spring” in various platforms.
Lou Taylor Pucci received a well-deserved Fantastic Fest audience award for his ingratiating performance as Evan, an easygoing but going-nowhere twentysomething who’s looking for a time out somewhere, anywhere, after the death of his long-ailing mom and a close encounter with a barroom brawler.
Impulsively — and, given his limited financial resources, somewhat improbably — he purchases a ticket to Italy, and sets out on a backpack holiday. At first, Evan is content to tag along with a pair of rowdy Brit tourists. In a different sort of movie, the brash misbehavior of these aggressively friendly hardy-partiers likely would escalate into mayhem, sadism or, at the very least, writing bad checks. But no: These wild and crazy guys casually depart just in time for Evan to devote his full attention to Louise (Nadia Hilker), the alluring beauty he meets in a picturesque Mediterranean town.
A genetics student who’s conveniently conducting research at a local institution, Louise proves to be more than Evan’s equal when it comes to flirtatious snappy patter. And when flirtation reaches the point where actions speak louder, and more enjoyably, than words, she is pretty much the epitome of a male fantasy in the sack.
After the lovemaking, however, Louise tends to be frustratingly and mystifyingly elusive. And with good reason: As the audience discovers much earlier than Evan, Louise requires periodic injections to halt her full transformation into an icky, sticky whatsit. But Evan falls so hard, so fast, that when he finally does learn Louise’s secret, it’s not a deal-breaker. True, he can’t help inquiring whether she is “a “vampire, werewolf, zombie, witch or alien.” On the other hand, it’s not difficult at that point to imagine him following up with Robert Mitchum’s immortal line from “Out of the Past”: “Baby, I don’t care.”
Benson and Moorhead take an unhurried approach to unwinding a storyline charged with alternating currents of romantic dramedy and horror show. They allow us ample opportunity to savor assorted hues of local color — especially when Evan lands a bed-and-board job working in the sun-dappled fields of an aging olive farmer (a well-cast Francesco Carnelutti). Nor do they rush through the “explanation” of Louise’s condition, or the couple’s extended give-and-take as they ponder the pros, cons and uncertain possibilities of happily-ever-aftering.
There are stretches of “Spring” where the slow passage of time makes itself felt. For the most part, however, Pucci and Hilker generate a sufficiently potent chemistry to command interest and compel sympathy. The filmmakers wisely shy away from complicating the situation with a distractingly high body count, but they don’t stint on suspense and unsettling atmospherics, particularly when a minor supporting character gets exactly what’s coming to him.
The transformation sequences rely on artful use of moody lighting, fleetingly glimpsed special effects, nimble editing by Benson, Moorhead and Michael Felker, Moorhead’s crafty lensing — and even more heavily on Hilker’s richly detailed portrayal of a woman with unique reasons for avoiding long-term commitments. And, no joke, the immensely satisfying ending will please anyone who’s fond of Linklater’s “Before” trilogy.