2015, NR, 109 min. Directed by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead. Starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti, Jeremy Gardner, Vinny Curran.

REVIEWED By William Goss, Fri., March 20, 2015

Sometimes the most thrilling thing a film can do is shake the shackles of its own preordained genre as you're watching it. The result might turn out to be a deal-breaking tonal trainwreck, but when such a hybrid works – and Spring, the second feature from directing team Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, does work – it can make for an improbably lovely experience.

In a funk after his mother's passing and on the lam following a subsequent barroom scrap, twentysomething Evan (Pucci) takes an impulsive trip to coastal Italy, where he meets Louise (Hilker). A local student in addition to being an utterly striking beauty, Louise finds herself caught off guard once this persistent American declines her initial proposal of a noncommittal fling, and despite her words of warning, they tentatively explore something more genuinely romantic.

The particulars are best left vague beyond that. Trust, though, that much as their overlooked directorial debut, Resolution, steeped itself in compelling character development before slyly incorporating longstanding horror lore, Benson and Moorhead remain eager to keep an audience on its collective toes. Spring is as prone to idyllic seaside getaways as it is to shadowy back-alley confrontations, and the rustic Italian setting only helps to consistently ground a visual approach and narrative tone that shifts between the dreamlike haze of Evan’s much-needed vacation and the squirmy circumstances surrounding Louise’s nightly extracurriculars.

Fortunately, even as the central mystery dissipates in a sea of second-half exposition, the chemistry between the leads remains potent enough to hold our interest. For Pucci’s part, it’s a matter of working wonders with a pouty post-grad stereotype; for Hilker, the burden falls to infusing a potential manic pixie dream girl with equal volatility and vulnerability. Both are up to their respective challenges, making for a genre-tinged affair abroad that proves as alluring and elusive as, well, love itself.

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Spring, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti, Jeremy Gardner, Vinny Curran

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