12:30pm PT by Austin Siegemund-Broka
'Spring': First Look at Drafthouse's Monster Romance (Exclusive Image)
When Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead began planning the follow-up to their horror debut Resolution, they knew they'd do one thing differently: This time, they would show the monster.
The budget of their first feature didn't permit creature effects. "But we still thought about that monster a lot, where it’s from, how it operated," Benson tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We thought, 'Let’s take everything we know about monsters in past movies and apply it.' "
There is a monster at the heart of their new film Spring, but like in Resolution, it's part of the overarching story of an interpersonal relationship. The film centers on a down-on-his-luck American (Evil Dead's Lou Taylor Pucci) hiking through Italy when he develops a romance with a beautiful woman (Nadia Hilker) who conceals a strange secret. THR exclusively debuts the poster here for the horror release, which Drafthouse will launch in theaters on March 20.
The storyline differs from Resolution's in another major way: It's a romance. Where the writer-directors' 2012 debut follows two men — a suburban husband and his drug-addicted friend who discover the addict is squatting in a house plagued by a supernatural entity — Spring features a female character who the directors hoped would be complex and relatable.
"We tried to create Louise as a character where our moms and girlfriends would be like, 'I'm proud of Justin and Aaron for creating a good female character,' " says Benson. "We wanted a female point of view in the story, and that's a tough thing."
The film premiered at Toronto in 2014 to positive reviews. THR's Leslie Felperin praises Taylor Pucci and Hilker's "lively, electric chemistry" and the "professional, sound and smooth" filmmaking and notes that "in terms of how horror or sci-fi elements work on a metaphoric level in genre films, the thing going on with Louise makes for a nice, suggestive stand-in for young women’s fear of commitment and parenthood."
The film grew from the success of Resolution, but the road wasn't smooth. "If nobody wants to make your first film, nobody wants to make your second film," says Moorhead. "People are like, 'Let's see if they can do that trick again.' " Their sales agent on Resolution, the genre company XYZ Films (The Raid, Kevin Smith's Tusk), expressed interest in producing their next film. They sent the company three scripts, and they were pleasantly surprised when XYZ wanted to back the horror romance. "It felt like the most logical step forward," says Moorhead. "In every way it was a step upward, but it didn't in any way sacrifice what was in Resolution."
The next step was bringing the idea to Cannes. "Nobody would ever complain about Cannes, but it was terrible," says Moorhead. "Like two crazy homeless people, we had on $25 H&M suits and stayed 30 minutes outside the city and rode bicycles in the rain." But they connected with Italian producer Luca Legnani, cast their stars and started location scouting in Italy. They found favorable shooting conditions — breathtaking scenery, tax breaks and a skillful local crew — in the country's Apulia region. The shoot took four "blessed" weeks — a result of rehearsing on location for two weeks before filming. "I wish we had any war stories there, but we don't," says Moorhead.
They went to real-life creatures for inspiration to design the monster. "We looked for stuff online that gave us the heebie-jeebies," Moorhead says. They searched images like "diseased albino squid leg" and "chimpanzee mange" and forwarded the results to the creature team. They wanted the monster to look both naturalistic and reminiscent of horror classics like werewolves and vampires.
Drafthouse picked up the film for U.S. theatrical release after Fantastic Fest in September. The distributor, led by the festival's founder Tim League, has released specialty fare including the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Act of Killing, the Quentin Dupieux surreal comedy Wrong and Michel Gondry's Mood Indigo, and it produced the ABCs of Death horror anthologies. FilmBuff will release Spring on VOD on the same day.
The directors' next will work on a biopic of Aleister Crowley, the occultist who became notorious in early 20th century England. The project, which independent producer Pamela Hansson brought to them, will trace the young artist and poet's transformation into a figure labeled "the wickedest man in the world" by the newspapers of his time.
They're also in development on a TV project that "does the thing that we do," says Benson. "It's character-centric genre where the fantastic element is something you've never seen before. The idea is, the guys in the boat have to be interesting for the shark to work."