The combination of nubile Disney starlets, hedonism, violence and dubstep with the man who gave the world Kids, Gummo and Trash Humpers was always likely to be delivered in a big box marked DIVISIVE.
With so many off-kilter creative realms crashing together in a haze of colour, volume and a Southern drawl, the potential was always there for something vain, vacuous and polarising. In fact, these are the very elements which make Spring Breakers a film which will stay in one’s mind long after the vacation’s over and everyone goes home.
The film announces its intentions almost immediately; cue relentlessly edited close-ups of sweating, gyrating beautiful young things in non-existent attire partying away to sleazy beats in the sun-drenched seasonal party resort of St. Petersburg, Florida, misleading the viewer briefly into thinking they’ve accidentally wandered into another sequel to Piranha 3D before a mood-shifting cut to the more mundane reality of drab suburban existence in Kentucky.
Sweet, naïve Christian Faith (Selena Gomez) is preparing to join her life-long friends (we know this because they wake each other up with handstands and cartwheels in their underwear) Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) for a long dreamed of escape from their unexciting, grey, pot smoking, coke snorting existence to join the mass exodus of college kids to the sun-drenched party paradise for Spring Break, the only snag being a lack of funds.
The more headstrong pair of the group, Candy and Brit, hatch a plan to rob their local chicken joint with hammers, balaclavas and water pistols, sending them on their way to the land of their debauched fantasies. Once there, funds ever-dwindling, they lose themselves in dancing, drinking, snorting, gyrating and holding hands on the beach staring at the sunset until they find themselves arrested alongside a houseful of over-imbibing partygoers, dumped in jail, lectured by the judge and placed on bail (all the while in their bikinis).
They find themselves released a few hours later thanks to the intervention of benevolent stranger and uber-playa Alien (James Franco), a white rapper and drug dealer who has taken the poor angels’ plight to his heart and decided to give them a ride in his flash ride back to his big fancy crib to play with his guns, slo-mo frolic in his piles of cash and be impressed by his underwear collection and other toys. From hereon in, the girls find themselves coasting along on a path which can only lead to danger but, of course, they can always jump on the bus home if things get too much.
To unspool the rest of the narrative, which on the surface is surprisingly linear, simplistic and convenient, would do the film a serious injustice as the way these events are presented is with so many visual enhancements and details turns typical exploitation into a more intelligently created work of art. Accompanied by an incredible score, both bombastic and beautiful, from the combined talents of superstar DJ Skrillex and Drive‘s composer Cliff Martinez and gorgeously kaleidoscopic visuals from Benoit Debie, the cinematographer responsible for Enter The Void‘s colourful mindride,Harmony Korine has utilised his mastery of blurring dimensions to create something, so utterly unique from derivative Hollywood convention. As is characteristic of his films, locations and details usually ignored are given the same attention as the big name stars, lending the film a documentary feel yet with a hyper-real quality.
The thugs and assorted hangers on are all known faces and voices in the underground scene, from big dog baddie Archie, played by real life rapper Gucci Mane to gold-toothed Alien’s similarly accessorised entourage including dreadlocked Dangeruss and the disturbingly genuine ATL twins, brothers who like to share everything. The overrall effect is unique and polarising, cleverly riding between seduction and repulsion, headrush, bad trip and the inevitable comedown, treating its assorted characters with an equal amount of affection and mockery, perfect fodder for the Vice-reading brigade though they’ll probably be the ones who miss the point of the jokes.
With the potential to shock the audience with its sensationalism and concoction of subversive ingredients, it’s actually surprisingly safe; although the viewer’s imagination may be fully familiar with its protagonists detailed figures, there is actually very little nudity from the leads, apart from a tasteful and arty threesome in the pool and Korine’s wife Rachel laying herself bare for the boys in a scene which could have been taken from real jocks’ home videos. In fact, this is a scene where it feels like Korine stopped short, where it could have been taken to an inevitably tragic conclusion. Heavy drunken advances after extended teasing and little pleasing are shrugged off too easily and indeed there are many moments where the moral conclusion of events are conveniently tied up. Then again, that’s precisely the point for the self-obsessed youngsters, making the most of every opportunity, after all, youth won’t last forever and they can always go home if things get tough, the repercussions aren’t their concern.
The casting is perfect, childlike Gomez looking genuinely delicate and vulnerable, a perfect view of the outsider who wouldn’t want to worry her granny, while Hudgens and Benson throw themselves into their roles with big grins on their faces. The true star however is Franco who in Alien has created a character destined to be as iconic and quotable asBrad Pitt’s Tyler Durden or Heath Ledger’s Joker. Indeed, it won’t be a surprise if Alien lookalikes and girls in day-glo bikinis and ski masks become a staple for future Hallowe’en parties. The dialogue isn’t particularly revolutionary or profound, employing a few phrases repeated throughout which contributes to the overrall hypnotic effect as well as revealing the limits of its characters intentions, but are constantly entertaining when delivered in Franco’s Southern gangsta drawl.
Due to its aesthetics, Spring Breakers is a film which will undoubtedly provoke extremely divisive responses. Many will hail it as sublime genius while others will leave feeling completely under-whelmed by their own expectations. This however is one of its biggest achievements; it’s as likely to find favour with the arthouse scene as it is B-movie junkies and even the late-night chant-along, hipster crowd more likely to be found at screenings of The Room or Showgirls, though they may all be missing the point.
Red Band Trailer: PLEASE NOTE: Contains Strong Language and scenes of violence.