Nearly twenty years ago Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine co-wrote one of the most graphic and scathing portrayals of youth in the shape of Larry Clark’s Kids. It seems, despite the passing of time, that Korine’s opinions on the youth of today have changed very little. What is more worrying, and perhaps either fabricated or terrifyingly true, is that the young girls at the centre of Spring Breakers have acquired a penchant for violence without any concern for the repercussions.
When Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) realise they don’t have enough money to head off on spring break they take matters into their own hands. Successfully robbing a chicken shop, with nothing more than water pistols, they raise the money and drag good, Godly girl Faith (Selena Gomez) off to Florida for a bit of sun, sea, sleaze and sex. Falling foul of the law, the girls are bailed from prison by local drug-dealer come rapper Alien (James Franco), who soon shows them what a good time really is.
For its first 45 minutes Spring Breakers is nothing more than pure titillation. Soft-core images of breasts and enough crotch shots to make even The Sun’s Page 3 blush, it is essentially Piranha 3D without the fish. It’s repetitive, Korine composing endless montages of girls with booze, bongs and boobs hanging out. Of course it’s a prime opportunity for former Disney princesses Gomez and Hudgens to shed the sparkly dresses, Hudgens in particular seizing the chance with both hands, but after the initial shock you’re left wondering what happened to anything resembling a plot.
And then it shifts, the moment Franco’s cartoonish, Ali G like Alien arrives we see another side to the girls. A self-destructive violent side. A belief that they’re invincible and we begin to understand that they’re simply looking for the ultimate high. But perhaps more pertinent is that, through all this, they’ve become numb to life, that, as one character says it’s just a movie, a video game or a break from reality.
Korine’s visuals support the girls’ sense of a heightened world, seeping the film in enough neon-glow that you wonder if you’ll go blind by looking directly at it. Lacing the film with Steven Soderbergh style repetitious voiceovers to make his point abundantly clear, Spring Breakers is often an assault on the senses and brings with it everything that implies.
But by the time the girls are fully immersed in Alien’s world you begin to understand what Korine is aiming for, albeit in an often frustratingly puerile way. The film, once it’s got its attempts to arouse out of the way, is an often beautiful and haunting investigation at a disenfranchised youth. That for all their studies at college, their tiny bikinis and endless dancing, these girls are trying to find an identity, something they can claim as their own. Parallels can be drawn with Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s The Beach but Breakers packs a much more back-breaking (rather than back-packing) punch. There is no moral learned here, for the most part the girls remain num to the world around them, even when blood is spilled and vendettas paid.
Easily one of the most polarizing films you’ll ever see, Spring Breakers is half tabloid baiting trash, half stunning look at an alienated youth. Given its tone, style, themes and target audience Spring Breakers is likely to last forever as a cult film but one that, with less self-indulgence on Korine’s part, could have been great. Instead it will have to settle for a trip just about worth taking.