Review Podcast Rating

Spontaneous (2020)

Spontaneous is a movie that flits in and out of greatness as quickly as its characters pop like balloons. And I’m not even sure that some of the great parts were even intended to be great for the reasons they are.

The central conceit — that a class of high school seniors start exploding into viscera for no obvious reason, one person at a time, and at random intervals — is a really brilliant and round premise that allows for all sorts of readings. Life shifts and ends abruptly, traumatizing those around the deceased and leaving nothing but a void. There’s no reason or silver lining — just regret. It’s a metaphor for life itself, or perhaps just the end of innocence. But it’s also (very consciously) evoking school shooting emotions and imagery.

Also, it’s a terrific parable about COVID, which is pretty funny because it was written and produced before COVID.

Think about it: The notion of life unfairly upended with long bouts of nothingness punctuated by pangs of terror and loss… of the ever-lingering fear of death… of a year of life yanked away and an uncertain future… of physical separation as a treatment for some intangible danger… of things getting worse before they get better before they get worse… of government meddling and medicine the masses don’t trust… it’s ripped from headlines that hadn’t been written when this movie was made in 2018-19.

Underneath all that bloody horror and symbolic residue is a movie with lots of ups and downs. The traumatic parts are really bracing, particularly a specific scene about two thirds into the movie (if you’ve seen it you know the one).

Much of the teen drama on top of that is kind of vanilla and hackneyed, unfortunately. Mara feels a bit too dour as a protagonist, too ironically detached; Dylan unevenly sketched. Even if they’re imperfect protagonists, they definitely have palpable romantic chemistry which elevates their scenes together.

There is one X-factor on all of this generic teen stuff for Spontaneous, which is the omnipresent threat that any individual scene could be disrupted by an unexpected flesh explosion, making some scenes that are romance on the surface play more like slow-motion thriller. (Alas, the movie avoids most of the cruelest and cheapest gut-punches, at least in a timing sense.)

While I really liked a lot of the movie, I ultimately felt like it could and should have done a lot more to poke at the edges of the psychological terror it created rather than spend its last half hour morphing into a “live life to the fullest” parable. Given how well the premise is set up and depicted, I wanted to see a broader spectrum of its impact on the teens, the paranoia of instant death further explored, the trauma of losing the people you love given more fallout than “it made her depressed”.

Spontaneous is definitely worth a watch. It’s timely and poignant, occasionally astonishing… but not quite the instant classic it could have been.

Is It Good?

Very Good (6/8)

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