I wasn’t going to review these movies together for any deep reason — I simply watched them back-to-back and thought I’d kill two birds with one review. After all, these were two very different films — tonally and stylistically — and I really liked one and kinda hated the other one. Pretty different flicks altogether.
But the more I thought about it, the more I drew parallels between the two films: both were fairly under-the-radar VOD films about having to accept the fate bestowed upon a loved one while helplessly watching them turn into some awful thing. So maybe reviewing them together does make sense in some loose way.
I knew very little about each film prior to watching them, but I’d seen nothing but praise and warmth for both films circulating online. I’d watched a trailer for Maggie and knew Arnold Schwarzenegger was putting in a dramatic performance as a farmer who watches his young daughter slowly succumb to a zombie bite. As for Spring, I’d only seen its poster and the head-scratching Rastafarian color scheme. I also had a friend who’d seen Spring and said he enjoyed it, but that the writing was “very college”, and it was a bit sappy. And I knew from reading a brief synopsis on iTunes that a guy goes on a roadtrip to Italy, falls in love, blah blah blah. At this point, I was totally on board for Maggie and couldn’t care less about Spring.
Oh, how wrong I ended up being.
I watched Maggie first, as I was more interested in it than Spring. It starts out promising, if not completely trite: muted color palette, desolate fields with arbitrary fires burning, governmental warnings being delivered in fuzzy bursts through an old truck radio as it ambles down a lone, vacant highway — the apocalypse, baby!
But boy it loses steam, and quick. It took me three tries before I was able to make it all the way through this 95 minute movie. It is rough. It’s fairly void of any dialogue, and the lines we are gifted are so brutally hackneyed. An incredibly miscast Arnold Schwarzenegger (playing a painfully earnest farmer) gives his daughter the old “you remind me so much of your mother” speech while he works on his truck; they laugh, they bond; it’s technically a ‘scene’. And when the film isn’t being incredibly cliche, it’s being incredibly oversentimental. Laughably, shockingly oversentimental. I almost want to spoil the ending because of how downright ridiculously saccharin it is, but where’s the fun in that? And then there are several ‘slo-mo traipsing through a field’-style shots from the Terrence Malick handbook which just end up feeling more like an anti-depressant commercial. There are so many of these shots, too many, that it feels as though they were included simply to pad out the runtime versus any real artistic or stylistic reasons. Also, when is this movie set? Their clothes, their house — they look like they’re from the 1800s. Yet everyone and everything else — Maggie’s teenaged friends, the local police — are modern. I mean, sure, I get it, “they’re farmers! Haha! Farmers always look that way, right?” It just furthers the uninspired laziness of the film. Also, this film apparently cost $8M to make when all was said and done, yet nothing happens at all. No explosions, no elaborate choreography or big set pieces. There is some (and I stress some) zombie make-up and very little CGI. Other than that, it’s all handheld camerawork on a farm. That’s it. Where ever that money went, it did not end up on the screen.
And for the people commending Schwarzenegger’s dramatic acting, c’mon, give me a break. I got more chills from the scene in Terminator 2 when he gives the thumbs up as he’s being lowered into molten metal than I did from his whole performance in Maggie. And I know that sounds funny and snarky, but I’m being serious. I’ve seen Arnold play the ill-fated lead quite effectively before, but that is not the case with this film.
So after the incredibly disappointing Maggie I was fairly hesitant to watch a film I had no real interest in watching to begin with. But I turned on Spring and holy shit I was blown away! Beautiful and competent cinematography, gorgeous locations, believable and engaging leads, effective and well done practical and CGI effects. Not to mention a smart script and original premise. I really, really enjoyed it.
I immediately got a Before Sunrise meets The Thing type vibe from it, and upon doing a little research have since found people calling it “Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft” — so my initial reaction was pretty on point. I won’t spoil it, but basically a burnt out American runs away to Italy where he meets and falls for a girl with a pretty heavy duty secret.
One of the many things I enjoyed about the film was that it didn’t let me down. Maybe that sounds silly and obvious to say, “I liked it because it was good!”, but horror movies these days so often find a way to ruin all the momentum they’d been building by tacking on a copout of an ending, or they blow it by throwing some unnecessary curveball in the middle that immediately evaporates the movie’s credibility. Not so with Spring. That’s not to say I wasn’t waiting for it at every turn, with every advancement; I was. But no, it keep moving along, sensibly and fluidly. And I just kept liking what was happening more and more. It’s great.
There is one, single scene early on which features a rapey dudebro type that feels forced. It only stands out because everything else is done so flawlessly. But thankfully that single scene is quite fleeting — seconds long, really — so it doesn’t distract too much.
At just shy of 2 hours, Spring is a long horror-ish flick, but it never feels long — and that’s a sign of skillful filmmaking.
Spring and Maggie may be similar films, but it’s the reasons they’re dissimilar that make all the difference.