A film review by Craig J. Koban April 3, 2014 

RANK: #22


2013, R, 98 mins.

Allen (Alien): James Franco / Faith: Selena Gomez / Candy: Vanessa Hudgens / Brit: Ashley Benson / Cotty: Rachel Korine

Written and directed by Harmony Korine

Judging by the film’s trailer and most of its advance advertising, SPRING BREAKERS looked like it was going to be yet another in a long list of beach party films where young swimsuit-clad people causally throw all of their inhibitions to the wind and engage in all sorts of unsavory behavior.  

To be fair, the opening sections of writer/director Harmony Korine’s film does appear to offer just that: cheap and sensationalistic titillation.  Yet, Korine has something decidedly darker and more eerily twisted up his sleeve with SPRING BREAKERS; it begins by showing off half naked beach babes gorging on beer and drugs on sun-drenched beaches, but it then takes an abrupt 180 degree turn by becoming a searing commentary on the sickening devolution of today’s youth.  

Make no mistake about it: SPRING BREAKERS is an endlessly sleazy film, but it’s a sleazy film with a deeply rooted and hard message at its core and one that is also exemplarily handled on a level of pure filmmaking craft.   Korine is perhaps best known for writing the then-scandalous NC-17 rated KIDS in 1997 and then followed that up directing low budget indie fare like GUMMO, JULIEN DONKEY BOY, and MISTER LONELY.  If anything, Korine displays himself behind the camera in SPRING BREAKERS with an astute eye for aesthetic detail, and he also knows how to push viewers’ emotional buttons to feverous extremes.  There are times when I was sort of in awe at the film’s almost freakish visual beauty while, at the same time, becoming deeply unsettled at the smorgasbord of unseemly and criminal behavior displayed on screen.   Those going into this film expecting high a T and A quotient won’t be disappointed, but those of you out there may not be prepared for what the film has to say about society’s careless and law-defying children.  

The actual story that Korine tells is, to be fair, kind of limited and sparse, not to mention that most of the female characters in it are distilled down to types.  What’s crucial in the film, though, is the whole maddening mood and atmosphere it creates with showing beautiful young women – with their whole lives ahead of them – become wholly oblivious to what they do and eventually become, which is kind of frightening.  The four college girls in question are Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of Harmony).  They all wish to leave the monotony of their scholastic endeavors and escape to the hedonistic pleasures of Spring Break in Florida.  



There is one problem: they don’t have enough money.  The girls then decide – much to Faith’s dismay (she’s a staunch Christian gal) - to take a turn to the dark side by committing petty masked and armed robbery to fund their trip.  After they are successful, they flee down to Florida, where they initially spend their free time partying it up as just about any other youth is while there.  Things start going south for the girls, especially when they are all arrested at one particular drug-fuelled party gone wrong.  While in custody they are bailed out by a stranger who affectionately refers to himself as “Alien” (James Franco), a wanna-be gangster rapper and drug dealer with sickening delusions of his own greatness.  Everyone seems hopelessly lured into to the bizarre and Svengali-like allure of Alien’s mini-criminal empire, all except Faith, who can clearly smell a rat when she sees one.  She decides to depart back home, and after a teary-eyed farewell with her friends the remaining trio decide to go down Alien’s rabbit hole of criminal activity, no matter how morally questionable. 

Weak-sighted filmgoers and critics that still believe that Franco is a performer of limited variety and skill desperately need to seek out SPRING BREAKERS, where the actor completely sheds his pretty boy façade and buries himself deep into one of the most unseemly and deplorable human beings to occupy a film in long time.  Decked out in multiple tattoos, facial and body piercings, dreadlocks, and gold-capped teeth, Alien seems like an extraterrestrial from another plane of existence.   Franco brings an unpredictable level of sinister menace to the role, who uses everything in his flirtatious arsenal to turn his female prey into cold-blooded killers.  Franco has a bravura moment where he takes the girls on a tour of his “crib”, decked out in guns, drugs, multiple bottles of Calvin Klein fragrances, and SCARFACE on a continuous loop.  He also achieves instances of dark comedy, as is the case where he sings – while on a piano – Brittany Spears’ “Everytime” to his ladies while a visual montage of their future criminal activities plays in synch.   The only thing holding back Franco from an Oscar nomination here is the Academy’s infamously short attention span.  

The performances from the actresses themselves are broadly based, but kind of haunting all the same.  Gomez’s Faith is arguably the only one with any defining characteristics of humanity (she serves as our portal into the film’s depravity), whereas the other women – some of which made careers staring in mediocre, family-friendly, and totally disposable Disney Channel fare – emerge as pleasure-seeking sociopaths by the film’s conclusion.  There are certainly some in the audience that will complain that Korine and his camera engage in shameless voyeurism in the film (many shots of the scantily clad starlets are borderline invasive), but Korine is not interested in displaying his stars as crude sex objects: he wants to uncompromisingly show the utter corruption of their souls when cast under another lunatic’s spell.  

Korine further allows this with his stylistic choices.  Cinematographer Benoit Debie paints a hypnotic fantasia of candy-colored beach vistas and sumptuous sunsets in the film, but he also forges a sense of propulsive visual energy to the proceedings to make audiences feel like they're are fly-on-the-wall observers to the girls' increasingly erratic behavior.  This is one of the most strangely gorgeous, but toxic looking films I’ve seen; even when the film generates moments of aesthetic  pageantry (as is the case with a virtuoso camera pan that chronicles – from the outside looking in – the early robbery perpetrated by the girls) it later descends into documentary-like hand-held extremes that evokes the girls’ sickening extremes they partake in later. 

I’m sure that many will come out of SPRING BREAKERS either loving or hating it.  Again, those expecting a mindless skin flick may be taken aback – or frankly disturbed – by what they see on screen, not to mention that young viewers that grew up on the young casts’ G and PG-rated fare may be easily shocked by what transgresses on screen.  The façade of SPRING BREAKERS is a drug and alcohol imbued beach party film, but that’s just the crude surface of what really lurks beneath.  The film’s initial dreamscape of anything is possible for the girls morphs into an unrelenting social nightmare where they simply have no understanding of cause and effect.  SPRING BREAKERS emerges, in a way, more as a psychological horror film than it does as a crass and bawdy teen comedy about girls gone wild.  I did not enjoy, per say, what I saw in the film, but I appreciated what it wanted to say and how it said it, and Franco’s deliriously unhinged performance is one for the proverbial ages.  It’s impossible to look away when he’s on-screen. 

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