The babes, the bros, the booze, the beaches, even the boobs; they all start to look the same after a while. In party after party, they’re all such identical cookie cutouts that you begin to wonder if anyone who rages this hard and this nonstop could even be called human.
That’s the premise of Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” a grotesque monster movie that slows these celebratory, MTV montages to a lurching, ugly snail’s pace and repeats them ad infinitum. Korine didn’t make this film to shock and desensitize kids, but he didn’t make it for parents to get a horrific peek behind the curtain either. It’s the idea that after so long, being showered in beer doesn’t look too different from being showered in cocaine and hundred dollar bills.
I don’t think Korine means to indemnify any actual spring breakers by labeling them all monstrous criminals. He did after all have to throw this dream party in order to film it into a nightmare. It’s the mindset that goes along with it that is the problem. Spring break is treated by most as an escape from the doldrums of reality, and Korine brands it further as a scary way for teenagers to “find themselves.”
Listen to Faith (Selena Gomez), a college-aged good girl who is reluctantly dragged along by her friends to Florida: “I’m starting to think this is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been.” She sees it in the bright video game colors, the futuristic music blaring from Skrillex and Cliff Martinez’s (“Drive,” “Contagion”) score and the bond she finds by having some friends who will piss on the side of the road along with her.
Ultimately, they view spring break as a transformative escape. Their vacation starts when Candy, Brit and Cotty (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine) rob a local restaurant for spring break seed money. Their guns are fake, but their attitudes aren’t. When Faith asks how they did it, they chillingly accost her with conviction and ferocity, but what’s exciting is how it feels like more than an act.
After one particularly rowdy party, the foursome is arrested, only to be bailed out of prison by a gangster and rapper who calls himself Alien (James Franco). Laden with gnarly, metallic teeth and stringy, dreadlocked hair, he boldly asserts he’s from another planet, only to take us into his lair full of weaponry, cocaine and money. Franco is magnetic in these scenes, mixing a panhandle y’all with a gangster’s snarl. His pronunciation of the words “sprang braaakee” completely redefines the term, and his “Look at my Shit!” montage may just be iconic and meme worthy for years to come.
But for how immersed Franco is in the role, the feeling in the theater is much more unsettling. Korine films the spring break raves on the beach with the same slow motion, lens flares, neon filters and canted angles as he does the gangsters in strip clubs later. Faith says this isn’t the spring break she imagined and that she came to have fun. “Isn’t that what we’re doing?”, Alien says. “This is the American Dream.”
A common narrative that’s come out of the branding for this film is that both Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens were Disney Channel stars, as if watching them in a movie as this suggested that they above everyone else had the furthest to fall. But Korine’s little stroke of casting genius is their tabloid star status. If anyone represented the repulsive American dream Korine is depicting, they either intentionally or not are at the epicenter.
It begs the question how far these girls had to fall to begin with. “Spring Breakers”’s early scenes won’t be as memorable to most audiences, but look at the color Korine employs reflecting off computer screens in a darkened lecture hall. Look at the other-worldly colors coming from these girls’ bleached hair as they stride down a blue dorm hall. Look at their jarring poses in between doorways, or Candy’s tendency to mime blowing her brains out. These people already live in a video game fantasy they’re trying to escape from. Even Faith is her own kind of extreme party girl as some young church goers ask if she’s “jacked on Jesus” and if she’ll “pray super hardcore.”
Korine, a director who has always been fascinated in calling out the ugliness in the world, and one who may still be in love with the things he criticizes, takes his parallel well past its threshold. His point is made long before the girls don bright pink ski masks and go on a rampage, and the remainder of the film may be little more than excess.
But if “Spring Breakers” is about anything, it’s about those excessive moments that give us a feeling of release. It’s an ugly, even horrific or monstrous idea, but ultimately a human one.