Further to their debut feature, the genre-spurning drug rehabilitation tale, Resolution, filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead bounce back in a big way with the impressive and imposing genre-bender, Spring.
Spring follows Evan (played by Evil Dead’s Lou Taylor Pucci) who finds himself in a personal tailspin and decides to up and flee to Italy. Once there, he finds himself overwhelmingly drawn to the beautiful and mystifying Louise (Nadia Hilker) who happens to be harbouring a dark, primordial secret.
First premiering at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Spring is now all set for its UK theatrical release this very Friday, 22 May, which will be swiftly followed up with a home release on Monday, 25 May. SCREAM’s very own Jon Dickinson had nothing but praise for the film, calling it “a monster you won’t want to miss,” so we couldn’t resist sitting down with the filmmaking duo to find out all about their latest brainchild…
SCREAM: Before we talk about Spring I wanted to ask you a bit about Resolution and its aftermath. Once you’d filmed that and you wanted to get it out there I understand you were told it probably wouldn’t find an audience but now you’re up there listed amongst the top ten directors to look out for in Variety. How do you get your head around something like that when it happens so fast?
Aaron Moorhead: I don’t know. It doesn’t happen all at once. When you say it like THAT you make it sound like it happened all at once, but for us it was kind of a snowball. It’s a little bit easier to take in when it happens over the course of like two years…. Jeez! Now that I say it like that I guess that’s all it’s been actually. But it’s kind of cool when you say it like that as I’d never really thought of it like that although it’s not like a light switch, it’s more of a rheostat.
Justin Benson: Yeah, it’s been really cool. From our first movie through to now we’ve been able to somehow always do whatever we’re passionate about and it’s neat when you get recognised for work that you did for no reason other than that we both really wanted to do it. When we found out about the Variety thing we had been on the road for three months touring with Spring and we were drunk in a bar at like one in the morning in Estonia. You’re so off in your little world in these odd places that you don’t really know the ripples your movie is creating or who is seeing it.
Is it true that a lot of the inspiration for Spring came from viewers’ reactions and feedback to Resolution.
JB: Yeah, there was so much speculation about the central mystery of the movie and with Resolution we had created a very cerebral monster. By the rules of that movie you would never be able to actually see it unless you put a mirror in front of a fourth wall, and even then you probably wouldn’t see it as it’s invisible. But with Spring there was definitely a challenge because, in doing another monster movie, we wanted to escalate it so that instead of deconstructing a friendship we could deconstruct this romance and on top of that we could show our monster and hopefully do something really innovative and effective in terms of the imagery of the monster. It’s always a challenge in the cinema to take something like the image of a monster and it’s only once in a while that someone gets it really right, like the Xenomorph in Alien, and everyone talks about it for decades to come. So we just wanted to try and design something that is more than just what it looks like and we wanted the image of it to have a lot of psychological impact and that was a nice challenge.
And where did this fascinating fusion of monsters and mythology spring from?
AM: The thing that I really liked is the fact that we have all these universal movie monsters like the werewolf, the zombie and those kinds of things. But for me, an idea that’s never been explored is that if you really look at the anatomy of a werewolf, it has sharp fangs and fur and a zombie has decaying skin and all of that and weirdly enough all of these actually come from different elements of our evolution, even things like The Creature From the Black Lagoon with all that scaly skin. So there’s a bridge that had never been crossed before, weirdly enough, in that our evolution is reflected in our idea of monsters. So there is this idea of a unifying monster that maybe, just maybe, someone caught a glimpse of the Louise character in the middle of a transformation and that’s where all these myths came from.
How would you best describe the way that the two of you work together?
AM: I think the easiest way to describe the way that we work is that we are two people with the same tastes trying to make the same product. We both happen to have very similar tastes so we are both getting to the same places and if we are both presented with a question with a yes or no answer we are both going to say the same answer.
We do sit down and talk through the ideas and we jump on each other and build it all until we are like, “Yes, that’s exactly what this whole thing is about!” So I do develop the script but I won’t write it and Justin is the one putting in all the time and effort, but I think that’s mostly the dynamic. It’s just easier to think of us as one filmmaker with two brains rather than there being a polar negative and a polar positive member where we clash until we find some middle ground. It’s not like that at all. It’s just two people with the same version of the film.
JB: The thing about Aaron and I and casting is that we don’t know who anyone is. Neither Aaron nor myself had seen Evil Dead or even Thumbsucker, which is kind of a crime.
Talking of which, I think you hadn’t even seen any Lynch films and a lot of reviews compare your films to his work.
JB: Yeah. We’ve developed all of these new interests based off reviews of our films. David Lynch is one of them because one reviewer said we were very Lynchian so we thought, “Shit! We should probably watch this guy then.”
AM: So we watched some Lynch films and we were like, “THIS GUY IS AWESOME!!!”
JB: And then Ben Wheatley was another one where people said Resolution kind of tonally reminded them of Kill List. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Kill List is a huge compliment and out of that we discovered him for example.
Anyway, going back to the casting process, when we were putting the cast together for Spring, XYZ Films was helping us package the actors that we had to go through an agency to get to and we would just get these lists from XYZ and the agency and we had to Google EVERY SINGLE NAME. So we would find their photographs and Lou was one of like two people out of five hundred that literally stood out for us and seemed like he’d be a good fit.
AM: So once we found Lou that was what green lit the film and we had a month or two before we were going to go to Italy. We were still finishing our V/H/S segment at that time and we didn’t have a female lead then and we didn’t really have any prospects so we sent emails off to every European producer that we knew telling them that we were after someone with a completely untraceable beauty so you don’t really know where she’s from, an untraceable accent, someone who was intelligent, someone who is good at naturalistic acting and who can understand the complexities of the character. If you think about it, that was a pretty damned hard request to make. Anyway, Nadia ended up coming back on a few different people’s lists so we investigated a bit and we Skyped her and she read for us and she was really great. If you are ever on Skype with anyone you don’t really know that person, you just know what you get in those ten minutes or whatever. We like to say it’s like online dating in a lot of ways but we Skyped again after a few days and then, after we closed the Skype window, we said to each other, “She is it, right?”
Obviously the Italian setting is absolutely gorgeous, and even more so with all those sweeping shots of yours.
AM: Funnily, most of those were shot in our off time. We knew we wanted them but our assistant cameraman had a drone and he brought it over from America. It looks like a huge weapon and he was like smuggling it though all the airports and the controller looks like a little bomb controller. Anyway, he’d bring this thing out on his off days and we’d run around with him and we did have these kinds of shots in our shot list for the movie but these drone sessions were never on the schedule and it was all just kind of like for fun. The shots didn’t take that long either because the batteries died real fast because the wind was really heavy so stabilising itself was really hard.
Whilst Spring is definitely a genre movie, you never really rely on cattle-prod scares and I love something you said about how you try to “keep a thunder cloud around everything.”
AM: CATTLE-PROD SCARES! Cool! Ha.
I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I feel like any horror filmmaker in the world says jump scares are kind of a cheap scare as it’s so easy and it’s not deep-rooted and there’s nothing really to it. Having said that, there is one in Spring and there’s one in Resolution but it’s always way late in the movie so you never expect it. I think, for us, it’s actually about raising stakes.
The thundercloud around everything that you mention is like the images of decaying nature or actually even in the score. If you think about what is actually happening in the movie, up until a certain point it’s not really very dark at all but what Jimmy Lavalle was able to do with the score was to undertone everything in a way that just feels wrong. I think that sense of wrongness and the sense of doom is what helps keep people on the edge of their seats, and we do pay off that promise.
Both Resolution and Spring share healthy doses of dark humour. Some horror filmmakers steer well away from comedy because they think it waters down the tension. I’m guessing you wholeheartedly disagree with that idea.
JB: There is definitely a question of tone here. I mean, I don’t think that people think that Tucker and Dale Versus Evil is scary at all. They like it. Everyone likes that movie and they should because it’s a charming ass movie. Is it scary, despite limbs being run through wood chippers? NO! It’s all big, broad comedy.
But in terms of horror and comedy never mixing, that’s just completely incorrect because just look at Jaws for example. Jaws doesn’t work unless you capture the humanity of the men on the boat. You cannot capture humanity without levity, without humour. It’s the tone of the humour that matters and you CANNOT capture humanity without capturing some humour in 90 to 100 minutes. If we talk about movies that are meant to be scary, I personally probably wouldn’t be scared by any movie that didn’t have some human joke in 90 to 100 minutes because that wouldn’t even make any sense.
AM: There are pieces of being a human that are completely ignored in a lot of films and one of the biggest ones is humour. Humans crack jokes and that’s just a fact, even in the worst situations. That doesn’t mean we always do it, but it means that if you are trying to make a human being in 90 minutes then that’s what you need. And there are other things that are completely ignored like dignity or desire for sex and stuff like that. That’s like every single human being in the world yet, weirdly enough, we are supposed to ignore those things as central human traits and go after even more primal things like hunger and need for money and fear of death. Those are supposedly the most central things to define a character in a film and that’s just not correct. There are a lot of things that are left off.
And finally, what can you tell us about your upcoming Aleister Crowley project?
JB: Yeah, it’s just basically a story about Aleister Crowley when he was about 25 years old and he set out to perform this ritual in his isolated house along Loch Ness in about 1899. In real life no one knows what happened during that time so this is a highly fictionalised account but everything that happens in the story is strongly rooted in the spirit of what we know about the human being Aleister Crowley, not the caricature. No, there are no pentagrams and there’s no Satan worshipping, but this is about the man, the man who had strengths and faults and had a very complicated relationship with spirituality. The movie also fits very squarely into our other body of work and it feels like a spiritual cousin to Resolution and Spring.
AM: It is definitely going to be kind of frightening but in this case it is so much more about watching the downfall of a man. This man is on the front of a Beatles album as like a kind of counterculture icon but he also died a penniless heroin addict. So it’s about this man who has these wonderful, rather libertine ideas that a lot of us wouldn’t agree with nowadays but he took it way too far into excess and became what the press called the wickedest man in the world.
Just one last question. Are you still working on a UFO cult comedy with Greg Nadal writing?
JB: Oh yeah. That project is actually probably going to take us about 20 years to make. We make it whenever we feel like making it. Sometimes we get burnt out and don’t want to make it any more. But yeah, basically it’s about the two UFO cult members from Resolution, Aaron and Justin, played by us actually, believe it or not. We are basically on a gap year, travelling the world trying to find enlightenment but when we get back we don’t like the world. So we come back to the cult and find that everyone has ascended in the UFO without us and that is actually why they sent us away and so we have to travel the world again to try and find another place for the UFO to pick us up. Basically, we bring a camera everywhere we go and if we feel like shooting some of it then we do. Who knows? Maybe it’s going to be a disaster but we’re going to love it.
Thanks so much for your time guys and we wish you the best of luck with Spring.
JB & AM: That’s cool. Thank you so much Howard and SCREAM for listening to us.
We’d like to thank Justin and Aaron for taking time to speak to us and we’ll leave you with the trailer and a little message from the filmmakers themselves. Don’t forget that the film hits cinemas this Friday, 22 May and DVD/Blu-ray on Monday, 25 May and you can also read our five star review right over here:
Words: Howard Gorman (@howardgorman)