(Harmony Korine, 2012)
(Originally posted at Take One)
Standing proudly as a unique by-product of the wave of bracing US independent filmmaking found in the 90s, Harmony Korine presents his latest nihilistic-cum-redemptive morality tale that pits a microscope against an altogether more sun-drenched source of societal decay: the annual tradition of spring break.
Regarded by none other than Werner Herzog as “the future of American cinema”, Korine has moulded a career out of vividly illustrating the ugly and gloriously subversive flipside to American idealism and the notions of suburbia as the pinnacle of cookie cutter nirvana. He is the always-polarising enfante terrible of low-budget filmmaking whose intensely idiosyncratic mind conjures misshapen visions of small-town life; the guy who matches David Lynch’s velvety, nightmarish peeps into the uncanny but offers something all too grotty and real, illustrating the darkly believable antics at play in the forlorn shadows of America’s dream. In his latest pot shot at society, Spring Breakers, Korine has formulated an intensely vivid, original and unforgettable deconstruction of the annihilation of innocence that takes place in a world far removed from his most notable previous works, where wandering adolescent Bunny Boy’s piss on oncoming traffic and deranged folk literally fornicate with garbage (see Gummo and Trash Humpers respectively). This is a modern image of an MTV-infused generation turned deeply sour.
Self-reflexively casting ex-Disney pawns Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens alongside TV star Ashley Benson and Korine’s off-screen wife Rachel, Spring Breakers sees the director using the debased rites-of-passage-esque holiday as a catalyst for the ensnaring allure of dark debauchery, bringing his transgressive rubbernecking to the mix. The four leads play sexually aware childhood friends Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty, who yearn to break free from their dowdy Kentucky surroundings and indulge in the renowned tomfoolery of a spring break vacation, yet lack the means to fund such antics. After robbing a local fast food joint at (fake) gunpoint, the gang join the alcohol-soaked mayhem for nonstop partying and boozing, disregarding social norms and consequences in favour of ceaseless inebriated euphoria.
However, after being arrested and thrown into jail, they are introduced to Alien (the scene-stealing James Franco), a drug-dealing gangster who bails them out and offers to extend their experience of Florida’s rougher edges. As hedonistic fun quickly switches to violence, the four girls each progress further into a neon-lit world built on crime and destruction, shepherded towards the gates of hell by Franco’s teeth-grilled, gangster rapping devil.
Embracing the mainstream whilst simultaneously challenging its codes, Korine’s latest is his most fully realised and accessible film to date; a provocative study of chaos that refuses to sugar coat the ugliness of what it both admires and reproaches. Spring Breakers could have so easily become what it is being advertised as: a cheap and tawdry perusal through its subject matter, using bikini-clad protagonists as exemplars of the accoutrements of present-day youth. Yet this isn’t merely a straightforward depiction of Girls Gone Wild-inspired carnage, quite the contrary in fact; it digs deep into the psyche and inner workings of the central friendship, the allure of bad behaviour and self-destructiveness, and how the choices these girls make – and the impact of Britney Spears – reverberates and has repercussions.
A giddy and deliriously cadenced journey through hallucinatory horror, Spring Breakers is a mash up of imbalanced characters and uncensored decadence, aided by fluid stylistic flourishes and a stark, scintillating blend of visuals and pulsating audio devices. It would be easy to accuse Korine of glorifying the iniquity on show, considering how the film opens with a prolonged, throbbing slow-motion distillation of every cliché spring break has come to represent, yet instead of indulging in rambunctious caricature he shows typically self-conscious and startlingly perceptive restraint.