A sleazy piece of exploitation with art-house leanings about four young college girls (Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens) who escape their small town lives to spend their spring break in Florida – and enjoy all the debauchery the beaches and parties have to offer. As their paths cross with eccentric local rapper and small time gangster, Alien (James Franco) the girls are seduced into his dark world of violence and drugs, finding the excitement and danger lacking in their normal lives.
Exploitation cinema has had a rough ride in recent years – trashy examples from the 70s and 80s are often considered kitsch masterpieces, receiving nostalgic screenings and the framed poster treatment; more contemporary efforts (Piranha 3DD, for example) are critically panned and derided. Fundamentally the movies are the same – there just isn’t that retrograde VHS grain that makes them acceptable to like. So with ‘Spring Breakers’ we have a pure piece of modern exploitation dressed with acceptability – a highly regarded (if controversial) director in Harmony Korine, a cast of former clean-cut teen stars (Hudgens and Gomez were both Disney girls), an A-list leading man and an art-house aesthetic and structure.
Not driven by narrative or character, it’s more of an audio visual assault of pop culture, with more tits, guns, drugs and teen angst than a 16-year-old's Tumblr feed.
Chopping back and forth in time, replaying scenes and dialogue, it unfolds more like a bunch of hazy memories. Thanks to the endless energy and pace it’s still completely compelling, and as funny, sexy, and sleazy as it needs to be to hold the attention. Much of this is down to Franco, who is fantastic as the bizarre, manic Alien – nailing all the movie’s best lines and creating a character who will surely pass into cult status.
Shot with the leering eye of porn and pop videos, it has a mix of mainstream gloss and frenetic voyeuristic handheld footage, spliced with grubby digital YouTube clips. Painted with a seductive colour palette of tanned flesh and bright clashing neons, paralleled with Florida’s dingy underworld, the colours linger in the memory far longer than the film itself. The construction works fantastically well, capturing the raw energy of youth – perhaps a comment on pop culture and our consumption of content in short bursts, but you’d have to really want to see it. That being said, Alien showing the girls round his house exclaiming “LOOK AT MY SHIT! LOOK AT ALL MY SHIT” certainly says something about our material culture and compulsion to ‘share’, and the our skewed idea of ‘making it’. There are also some well-observed truths about female friendship and adolescence – the recurring theme of wanting to stay locked in a moment of youth is something we can all relate to; as is the sense of invincibility every teenager feels, where no actions have consequences and horrific experiences only afflict others.
Ultimately it’s a hugely enjoyable slice of filth that passingly works as a superficial satire of youth culture. With no real depth, this sleazy, titillating, frantic ride delivers more than enough entertainment – but leaves an urge to have a good shower afterwards.
[ 2012 — Dir: Harmony Korine — 94 mins — 18 cert — IMDb ]
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