Exclusive Clip, Q&A: Monster Romance, Spring

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Spring is something special. A singular film from two metaphysical minded filmmakers that’s as emotionally stirring as it is creature feature fascinating. It’s one of the must-see movies of right now. The movie finds orphaned Evan run off to Italy where he strikes up an intense courtship with the mysterious Louise. Existing in a world where the unnatural is accepted as just the opposite and sought with understanding and empathy, Benson & Moorhead have crafted a legit horror romance. It is not one or the other. It is both, it is tender and it is uninterested in giving over to anyone’s expectations. 

Shock Till You Drop presents an exclusive clip and talk with the writer-directors, perhaps appropriately showcasing both sides of the film. The talk is a bit dreamier, while the clip is an excerpt from one Spring’s more monstrous moments. Spring is out now in theaters from Drafthouse Films and On Demand from FilmBuff. See it.

Shock Till You Drop: There’s a metaphysical air to your films, this idea that these things exist right next to us, on top of us. It could be scary, it could be romantic, it’s just otherworldly and there.

Justin Benson: Neither Aaron nor myself believe in the supernatural, especially the closer you get to the traditional ideas of the supernatural. Ideas about ghosts fall apart pretty quickly once you intellectualize it, you know? So, if you pass away and you leave something that’s kind of transparent called your ghost, how come there are no caveman ghosts? Why should we be afraid of them? Has anybody died or gotten hurt from a ghost?

But I think the fascination was early born, honestly. I watched every episode of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek and read a lot of Stephen King growing up. I don’t have a really good, intellectualized answer for why the supernatural fascinates me, except that it does. I think in our movies, we try really hard to convince each other as hardcore skeptics. What would freak me out, without just being the door slammed really fast? I wouldn’t care.

In Resolution, the myth of the monster, which is never declared, if you’re seeing the result of this monster on a cave wall, it appears to be as old as human imagination. There’s a theory of persuasive communication: the more detail you give, the more believable it becomes. The detail that we do give usually sends it sort of off the beaten path and hopefully something that even when we intellectualize it, we can still creep ourselves out.

Spring, here’s an immortal being that’s 2000 years old, but she’s not a vampire. That’s a beloved mythology and it’s great, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense from a modern perspective, from the modern mind. Drinking blood makes you live forever, we know that’s not true. Everyone knows that’s not true. You accept it because it’s a myth you grow up with, but in Louise’s case, the mechanism by which she remains immortal seems like just maybe that could be. The way that she sees the world is a way that we’ve never really quite seen immortal beings deal with, where she herself is a skeptic because she’s literally seen the changing of gods like we’ve seen the changing of presidents.

Shock: Are you skeptical of gods, and skeptical of love?

Benson: A movie that just says something, like one definite thing, I think that ends up looking like moralizing rather than having a theme. So, all of our movies are explorations of an idea rather than saying one’s right and one’s wrong. In some ways it’s a very literal thing of like, “date a monster, literally,” and then more metaphorically, exploring the theme of rebirth, exploring the theme of loss and grief and rebirth from that. And science vs. magic, you don’t really have an answer by the end of it, but you get an idea that there’s more to things than science and there’s a lot more science to things than magic.

Aaron Moorhead: That’s a lot of it. We have to convince ourselves one way or another, but we really try not to stand up on our high horse and moralize any one version of that. That’s not what our movies are for.

Benson: In the case of Spring and in the case of our next movie, which is about Aleister Crowley, it presents the facts that there are deities that predate the deities that mainstream religions worship today. The story’s not stating that there’s no god. In a story about myth, it seems to give it an extra power when you acknowledge the facts and then work out from there. In no ways are the films saying there is no god, there is no one particular god.

Shock: Outside of the story itself, what kind of goals did you have in making your second feature?

Moorhead: The one goal that was pretty clear is you always want to step forward and upward. We had plenty of scripts offered to us after Resolution and we had three other scripts that we were ready to make after Resolution, and Spring was the one that, besides being the story we wanted to tell right then, also was logistically and practically and thematically seemed like it was a spiritual successor to Resolution, while still taking a giant step forward. And so I think that was it. We’re always going to have a central relationship, I think it’s a hallmark of what we’re able to do the best, but in our first movie, we explored and deconstructed an old friendship. In this, we deconstructed a romance, which is even in some ways more relatable, more intense and more hot button in terms of debate on how they worked and how they should work and all that.

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Shock: You seem to focus on connection as a constant.

Benson: There’s definitely an exploration of connection. There’s a really interesting interview I Saw recently with Ethan Hawke about the making of Before Sunrise and how it came to him, how he read the first draft of the script and how he came to know Richard Linklater. One of the most fascinating things was how he got the script and said to Richard Linklater, I don’t think this is possible. This is going to be really boring and no one can pull this off. There’s no plot, it’s just two people hanging out. His response was, I don’t care, I want to make a movie about people connecting. You can make a movie that’s just about people connecting, whether it be a romance, a family connection, a friendship. That’s something again that’s always going to be in our work. As far as connection as a replacement for god, it’s not intentional. Our point of view is so agnostic.

Shock: I’m not necessarily honing in on it as replacement, but even in movies that don’t have a supernatural element, here’s what we have: connection. It brings us through it all. Maybe it’s one of the only things we can hold on to.

Moorhead: Also, in Spring, a real human connection is the one thing besides time that helps Evan deal with the loss of his mother, and so there is that, but I don’t think that he runs off searching for something like god or spirituality before he meets her. It kind of points out the little bit of what feels like magic when you meet someone really special. It’s very imperfect, but there’s something to it.

Benson: The movie’s in support of magic, magic defined as there are these things in life that we can’t explain and they exist within human connections. It’s unexplainable, it goes against the odds and it’s a beautiful thing that’s hard to apply logic to, but it exists. It’s magic.

Shock: Can you discuss creating Louise’s lore? Her forms?

Moorhead: We wanted to make sure we started small and grew big, so that it got worse and worse and worse. The actual order of them, I don’t think there’s one in particular except for the fact that visually, it’s easy to red herring a vampire earlier than it is to red herring a werewolf. That one still kind of looks like a human; that kind of thing. If you can kind of imagine the shots get wider, the scenes get longer. As long as they all have two things: there’s an evolution, there’s a connection to human evolution so it’s not just her turning into a monster, but her turning into a creature from our evolutionary past, like an ape or like an amphibian creature. There’s that rule and the general idea of conservation of matter. She can’t grow something and then it sucks back into her. It has to fall off or shed. Growing something and it sucks back in is supernatural, falling off and shedding is natural. Stuff like that, figuring out how it exists in this real world.

Benson: Having Louise, the process by which her body works, it’s really nice visually and storytelling-wise because it has to be nature-based. In theory, that should have more psychological impact on the audience.