Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers is a very well executed postmodern art-house flick which is, unfortunately, almost entirely derivative. The two main films Korine borrowed from are the criminally under-rated The Real Cancun (2003), and Enter the Void (2009). From the former it takes the material, from the latter the visuals, audio, and editing. Of course it is also situated in the long line of films that take a shit on The American Dream.

That being said, it's still a very interesting pastiche which can stand on its own legs. Styles are mixed in a very fluid manner, pop culture is both used heavily and subverted, and there is an overall air of self-consciousness vis-à-vis the filmmaking process itself, as well as the position the film occupies inside the same pop culture that it is criticizing: it is, after all, a film that shits on pop music while starring Selena Gomez.

There are three extremely distinct styles of photography present:
1. A rather neutral thriller-y style
2. An extremely pornographic approach
3. A detached documentary view of the whole thing (which includes the obvious stock footage).

There are shifts between the pornographic approach and the documentary approach literally from shot to shot: one moment there are unapologetic zoom-ins on T&A bouncing around, the next we are looking at the spectacle from a very detached POV.

What is the point of this? Is Korine elevating pornography or mocking the documentary? Is he chastising us for objectifying the bodies on screen by forcing us to have a more objective, non-sexualized view of the situation? Are we supposed to be aroused, or detached and neutral observers of the contemporary human mating ritual? Are we supposed to just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all? All of this of course is right out of The Real Cancun.

Technically the film is solid, but again rather derivative. I thought it looked very similar to Enter the Void, so I was not at all surprised to find they share the same DP, Benoît Debie. The colour scheme, many of the angles, use of handheld camera, the disjointed narrative, repetitive editing, etc. are all right out of Noé's masterpiece. There are some excellent shots, such as the long take during the robbery, a scene in a classroom which looks very much like a night club (not the most subtle idea but whatever), and what looked to me like a recreation of Matisse's The Dance (only with shotguns, neon-pink ski masks, and Britney Spears).

The score by the always excellent Cliff Martinez and Skrillex is excellent and was expertly crafted to complement the atmosphere that the visuals were trying to create.

Thematically there are four central aspects to this all-American movie: 1. guns, 2. religion, 3. pop culture, 4. spring break. They are ever-present and we are constantly reminded of this through a constant repetition of sounds, phrases, and images. The pop-religious "amen"-singing scene is interlaced with shots of Hudgens and a (fake) gun, for example. The girls constantly sing crappy pop music, My Little Pony is ever-present, "spring break forever", etc. I think Korine wants us to see how these elements are connected as part of the American identity, and thus the middle-class trash culture he aims to criticize. Everything is washed-out when the neon lights are off.

Plot-wise there is just...nothing. At all. What little dialogue there is between the constantly repeating atmosphere-setting phrases, is...unrealistic, if not other-worldly. The characters are similarly pointless, with only Faith (the hypocritical Christian girl) and Alien having any substantial presence at all. They all seem to be completely disconnected from both their environment and their actions: we see the girls skip away gaily after recreating an incredibly violent robbery, for example.

Franco is amazing as Alien, and sometimes goes so far over the top that it's hilarious: "I got shorts, every fuckin' color!", or "double penetration!". Again, there's not much new here in terms of his character...we've all seen crass, materialistic wannabe thugs before. He thinks he is the embodiment of the American Dream, but the dream keeps going at the end, even as he lies dead.

Korine also tries to bring class into it all, but I found the approach to be both ham-fisted and insufficiently thought out. We see Faith, the supposed good girl, have zero problems with robbery, drug use, etc. but the moment she's in a seedy-looking bar she freaks out and wants to go home. There is also the ending, in which the middle-class white girls are seemingly impervious to the bullets that the lower-class people die from. Yeah we get it, middle class people aren't affected by the violence of this sick culture...who gives a fuck?

This is beginning to sound like an IGN review: "horrible graphics, shit gameplay...9/10!" I'll just say that despite its weaknesses, Spring Breakers is mostly successful at what it tries to do, it looks and sounds great, it takes chances and they mostly work out. I will definitely be watching it again in the future.

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