Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers ★★★½

Going into this absolutely oblivious, I've got to admit I kind of expected a light coming-of-age drama, a tale of friendship and values against a backdrop of adolescent self-indulgence. And probably some nice butts in bikinis.

That last point turned out true, but apart from that, the opening scene already makes it pretty clear that if you came here for a fun college flick featuring former Disney starlet and Bieber-Ex Selena Gomez's ascent into adulthood, you're in for a big surprise: Slow motion images of exhilarated freshmen displaying their goods on the beach, a sun-glaring still life of youth's audacity and carelessness, unsettlingly accompanied by Skrillex's droning score - in all its neon glory, radiating a vague sense of peril.

But first of all, the exposition. Four pretty college girls escape their boring and meaningless little lives to go on an extended binge in Florida, after having attained the money for the trip by robbing a chicken joint at squirt-gunpoint (one of the most visually impressive scenes of the film). Their careless days in St. Petersburg, FL come to an abrupt end when the girls get busted for possession and have to rely on a seedy drug dealer (Franco) to bail them out of prison.

Now, what is remarkable about this turn of events is that it feels weirdly organic - and genuinely exciting. Franco's Alien is a picture-book thug if ever there was one, but strangely, his presence is captivating and his character never feels overdone or unauthentic (except maybe for that one scene with the piano). The girls are appalled at first, then weirdly intrigued, and in the end become his willful partners in crime.

This whole second half of the film left a deep impression on me. I don't know if it was the beautiful, radiant looks of it all, or the dreamy, almost hypnotic flow of events, riddled with lines of seemingly meaningless dialogue being repeated over and over again. Things quickly spiral out of control, but when the final escalation is imminent, you almost accept it as a natural development, completing the girls' transformation into beings completely detached from moral and consequence.

Gomez's appearance in this is of course a stunt: All she gets to do is play the good girl, her arc is easily the sloppiest and least believable of the lot. She doesn't participate in any of the weird stuff happening later on, as she conveniently leaves mid-film to care for her sick granny (or something along those lines).

From a purely visual point of view, there isn't much scandal in this film anyway: Even the racier scenes resort to a pretty tame softcore aesthetic. Nonetheless, Spring Breakers achieves to convey a strong sense of menace and malstrom, patiently lurking under the pretty facade - which is even more commendable given the fact that graphic imagery is mostly avoided.

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