Prepare yourselves for a new kind of filmmaking genre, one that sounds cringe worthy but is in fact a permanent stab in the belly of mainstream Hollywood. Prepare yourselves for the arrival of Harmony Korine, L’enfant terrible and storytelling genius with the single mission of annihilating the lines between commercial, independent and arthouse cinema. Prepare yourselves for Spring Breakers – which can only be described as Dostoyevsky in a bikini.
Starring a pack of scantily clad former Disney princesses raising hell in the most disturbing possible ways, Spring Breakers is on the surface eye candy and guilty pleasure, but is in fact a stunningly well made, viscous, nihilistic diatribe of the modern world. This is a coming of age story, a horror movie, a dark comedy and a brutal takedown of our increasingly decadent civilization all rolled into one blistering neon-colored acid trip that leaves you unsure of what to feel. The combined effect is powerful to say the least and Korine leaves you with the uneasy sensation of hopelessness, despite the film’s seemingly hopeful ending.
Like Korine’s Kids, which he wrote back in 1994 when he was 17 years old, Spring Breakers chronicles the hedonistic adventures of wayward youth in today’s society that either abandons them, or is careless enough to ignore them, or spends its time inculcating useless religion based values in them. Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine (the director’s wife) play ornery college kids who so desperately want to break free from the mundaneness of their lives that they commit armed robbery with squirt guns to collect money to go on a spring break. At Florida they find something that actually makes them happy – the allure of utter decadence, electronic music, booze, drugs and sex. But Korine isn’t interested in narrating an anti-drugs cautionary tale to parents here – he uses the societally corrupted bad girls to justify the desensitization of criminals. Korine’s message is the stark reality that one tends to evade: your government has failed, your education system has failed, your religion has failed, your cultures have failed, your values have failed, you parents have failed. The human race is so blinded by its sense of self-worth that it fails to define what a crime actually is. And Korine drives home that point by casting actual criminals in the film, criminals who could not do press for the film because they were sent back to jail.
The film has the atmosphere of a neon nightmare with the help of composer Cliff Martinez and cinematographer Benoit Debie who earlier displayed ample grasp of the hallucinatory with Enter the Void. Debie’s kaleidoscopic camera captures the intoxicating, apparent invincibility of money and power, a combo embodied by James Franco in the performance of his career as a gangsta rap star who is also a sleazy gangster. And although the themes are pretty heavy Korine presents them in a campy manner to mess with us even further. In one terrific scene Franco’s character Alien, who wears mouth grills, tattoos and dreadlocks plays the piano and shifts from zenlike to funny to unsettling to menacing in a heartbeat, as the girls sway around him. Alien sings a Britney Spears song that ends with a crescendo to establish the absolute submission of the girls towards the dark side – a leitmotif that was found in the Japanese movie Suicide Club which used the idea of teenage pop songs signaling the imminent end of the world as we know it.
(First published in DNA)