Movie Review: Spring Breakers
Director: Harmony Korine
Reviewed: 19 October 2013
"Spring Break, y'all. Spring Break Forever!" utters Alien (James Franco), a rapper-gangster-deejay in Florida who bails out four young women from jail after a fabled, much-anticipated Spring Break trip goes awry. The neophyte, the aptly named Faith (Selena Gomez) finds herself overwhelmed by her trio of friends Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine). "Be careful around them," one of Faith's friends warns her. "They have demon blood in them." These women prove resourceful, as lack of funds does not keep them from their dream of breaking out of their college and heading south by any means necessary. In a particularly daring shot, Korine keeps the camera inside the getaway car as two of the women jump out, invade a restaurant with guns, terrorize the people, and jump back into the car, all while the car circles slowly around the windows of the restaurant, revealing the images but not the sound. That comes later. Faith accompanies her friends on their journey into the heart of darkness: dancing, drugs, sex, and destruction abounds.
The party ends early on in the film. The camera lingers on the four young women in revealing swimsuits handcuffed together, leaning against the police car. Enter Alien who seems to have been watching them from afar. And by bailing them out, Alien inducts them even further into his criminal underworld of drugs, guns, seaside resorts, and cash. What happens to this group of four friends as well as Alien makes for compelling viewing; Spring Breakers is surprisingly one of the best films of the year.
Harmony Korine's greatest accomplishment in Spring Breakers is to offer commentary on the hedonistic culture of young people behaving badly while also providing the voyeuristic look into this world of excess. It is impossible to look away. And Korine's magic is to cut together a film that swirls around these characters, the America culture of Spring Break and getting away from it all, as well as Alien's materialistic rantings. Spring Breakers is remarkably pretty to look at because of its color-saturation and its overall aesthetic look. Korine's camera lingers on impossibly gorgeous sunsets. He uses slow-motion in his editing, and I do not know if I have seen an image as arresting this year as two women clad in bikinis and hot pink ski masks firing automatic weapons into the air. In another scene, he layers in Faith's phone conversations with her grandmother over the frenetic partying, a juxtaposition of the world presented and the world experienced.
The film is compulsively watchable and slender in running time. It never travels exactly where you expect it to, and I found Franco's performance to be so much more than the mere parody it may suggest. It was moving. Alien is as much a believer in the American Dream as Jay Gatsby throwing his shirts up in the air to impress Daisy Buchanan. Of course, in Spring Breakers, it becomes a rambling monologue of braggadocio consisting of "Look at my shit!" before listing that he has "Scarface. On repeat." But the idea is the same: look at what I have, look at what I own, look at how important I am. Korine carries his frightening ideas to their conclusions, never letting the audience off the hook, exposing the ugliest, most violent aspects of this world and this time. He plays with time and loops back upon specific scenes, offering the possibility of this being a memory replayed in the main characters' heads.
Spring Break may be forever, as Alien suggests, but a distinctly American undercurrent of violence and menace swirls beneath color-saturated shots of beach bacchanalia, and Korine loves playing with audience expectations, particularly in casting ex-Disney Channel stars Gomez and Hudgens. It is a journey into the mouth of hell for these four women, with Alien as a demonic guide, a journey that some are more capable at navigating than others. There might as well be a sign as they enter Florida: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Spring Breakers is incendiary, darkly funny, and awash in impressive visuals and upsetting violence. It is one of the year's best films.