Duffield has a strong and clear vision of what kind of movie this is, and he seems to be on the same page with his key collaborators, including cinematographer Aaron Morton, editor Steve Edwards, production designer Chris August, art director Cheryl Mason, and sound mixer Eric LaMontagne. The result is a movie that remains hypnotic and confident even when it starts to meander, repeating variations of the same situation.
The setups and payoffs are so similar that it gets to the point where you can predict the “unpredictable” moments. Whenever a minor character turns to a major character and starts yammering about something mundane, you expect the blam-and-goosh, followed by the inevitable Jackson Pollock-with-a-gore-hose effect on the walls and celling and on bystanders’ clothes and faces and hands and shoes. One can argue that the tedious repetition of the shocks is part of the point (indeed of the film’s aesthetic) and that you wouldn’t have the same movie without the studied feeling of aimlessness. Adolescence can be dull even when it’s horrendous.
In any case, there’s no denying that the film is purposeful in its aims and effects, and that it doesn’t move or feel quite like anything you’ve seen. There’s a lot going on here direction-wise, from blatant shout-outs to earlier classics of youth drama and/or black comedy (including “E.T.,” “Carrie” and “Dr. Strangelove”) to music video interludes and fourth-wall-breaking touches (including a clever sequence in which Dylan narrates the tale of his long-gestating crush on Mara into the camera while leading her on a guided tour of her obliviousness). Duffield’s elegant camera movements and editing patterns evoke Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson in fast-paced montage mode. The camera never sits still when it can track, swish-pan, lunge, or dive.
But the sum never crosses the line into shallow virtuosity because the script and performances keep you anchored in the teens’ troubled lives, and the tug-of-war in their psyches between needing to seem as if they’re in control at every moment and realizing that they’re stuck in a waking nightmare and there’s no end in sight.
Whenever “Spontaneous” starts to run out of imaginative juice, it turns a tonal corner and either puts a smile on your face or wipes it off. The final 15 minutes are a knockout because they embrace the fact that yes, in fact, this all actually happened, and even though nobody can explain it yet, these kids are going to be living with the emotional aftermath for the rest of their lives, and the adults that were supposed to comfort them were helpless, too.
For transparency’s sake, it feels important to state that this film was screened via link despite its availability only in theaters until Tuesday, October 6th. The intent of this review is not to encourage or discourage anyone from attending a theatrical screening at this specific time. It is an analysis of the work itself for posterity.
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