In 1994, Quentin Tarantino gave us what we can now look back on as the movie that best describes the phrase "WTF": Pulp Fiction, with its original and wacky writing, was the most surprising film ever. After walking out of my second screening at the Toronto International Film Festival this year though, Pulp Fiction will have to lose it's WTF title to Harmony Korine's disturbing and stupefying Spring Breakers. However, just because it shocks audiences doesn't mean it amazes them.
Up until a month ago, Spring Breakers seemed to me like the newest and most aggravating Disney project with headliners Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson. Throw in the name Harmony Korine, though, and we are dealing with a completely different film. Korine, best known for writing the groundbreaking and controversial KIDS when he was 19 years old, specifically chose the girls with the screaming fan bases of 12-year-olds so that their innocent faces would seem all the more shocking when they were doing what his script entailed.
The film opens with Skrillex music blaring over 10 minutes of topless kids on spring break. It shocks and disturbs you in every way possible, and just when you think it's enough, it keeps going. But as you will realize later, those 10 minutes set the tone for the movie perfectly. From that moment on, nothing will shock you -- just intrigue you.
The plot, or what there is of it, goes as follows. Four college girls, fed up with their dull small town lives, rob a chicken joint to go on the most ecstasy-filled blissful spring break ever in Florida. When down there, they get pulled into the underground illegal world of tourist-robbers and gangsters by part-time rapper Dangerous (James Franco with grills and dreadlocks). The story pretty much stops at the premise. To some that might be a weakness, but to Korine, it was an advantage.
During the Q&A at the Toronto International FIlm Festival (TIFF), Korine stated he wanted to create a film without much dialogue and more like a sensory experience. Audiences must know that when walking in. This is a music video-like trance and does not follow any familiar formulas. Spring Breakers benefits from being unlike any film you have seen before, but detriments from the audience's bewilderment when it is finished. It's Scarface meets Britney Spears and if you buy into what Korine is selling, you're good to go. If not, you can be assured that you will still notice the film's artistic merit.
Aesthetically, Spring Breakers is an incredible achievement. Korine's cinematography is simply beautiful with vibrant pinks and yellows to remind us of the sunny and dream-like feel of Florida these girls are entranced by. The constant use of slow motion establishes the high the characters are enjoying and maintains a consistent pace throughout. Korine uses repetition of lines, shots and music to panic you during the fall of that high when the film becomes more Scarface than Britney. The editing is the most skillful medium of art in Spring Breakers, using intercutting shots of the next scene to foreshadow a tone change in the story.
The combination of Skrillex's constant electronic beats with this surreal filmmaking results in cinematic brilliance caught between being disturbingly bloody and hilariously pop-like scenes. The perfect example is when Spears' "Everytime" plays over a robbery scene of violence and machine guns. You simultaneously laugh and feel sick.
The acting only thrives on Korine's messed-up atmosphere with doses and doses of weird improvisational dialogue that will again either scare or amuse you. For example, James Franco is guaranteed to have you howling with laughter, especially when he's screaming about the different stuff he owns. "Look at all my s***! I got shorts in every colour!"
It can always be argued that the use of female nudity in films is sleazy and misogynistic, but Spring Breakers isn't like a horror movie, when the female victim just happens to have her top off when she is alone. Korine's minute-long shot of a slo-mo bum shaking seems to manifest his fascination with this grand number of kids who lose all senses for a week or two in their version of paradise.
Despite all of Spring Breakers' graphic violence, nudity, use of drugs, alcohol, sex, etc, Korine is by no means using "shock value." Instead, he entrances you so much that every time a character goes further and further into their spring break activities, the feeling is gradual and organic. By the time the movie has reached an ultimate high of impropriety, you manage to somehow comfortably watch without a single cringe.
That may not be true for everyone, but if you do get into it, you throw all caution to the wind and just enjoy. That being said, Spring Breakers is most definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea, to say the least, as no Harmony Korine film is. He repeatedly states that he does not make movies for everyone to see, just for his specific audience. If you fall under that audience, you will be pulled into the trance and if not, you could easily sit there, offended by almost everything. Either way, let us just hope people know what they are walking into come this film's release.