WARNING: SPOILERS. Harmony Korine’s latest cinematic offering following such simultaneously celebrated/reviled recent flicks, Mister Lonely (2007) and Trash Humpers (2009) has provoked some predictable tirade’s from journalists seemingly interpreting Spring Breakers based purely on the amount of flesh it displays. What’s interesting about that point of view is that it judges the characters where the film itself does not.
Centering on the hedonistic activities of four female college student’s, who – having pooled their resources and come short – rob a chicken restaurant and head to Florida to join the ‘Spring Break’ party – Korine’s film is a lurid, day-glo, noisy affair, making much of the post-Disney rebellious personas of his stars, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. The opening scenes present either a hell or heaven on earth – depending on your perspective – all naked bodies and beer-swilling guys accompanied by the dub-step/trance onslaught of Skrillex. Indeed Gomez’ character is a Christian (her name is Faith) seen at church group before joining her colleges pals, but the opportunity presented by readily available drugs and sexual liberty isn’t what tests her moral integrity.
After being arrested, Faith, Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a self-styled rapper/dealer boastful of all his ‘shit’ – money, weapons, every colour of shorts (Franco and Korine reportedly based Alien on Riff Raff). Where her friends are elated by the freedom this new allegiance brings, Faith is uncomfortable with the expectations she perceives Alien to have in return, and in one of the films more intense scenes, refuses his persuasion tactics, despite how fervently he insists that he just wants to have ‘fun’.
What’s so consistently engaging about Spring Breakers is how Korine maintains a certain distance, and thereby non-judgemental approach to his characters. Candy, Brit, Cotty and Faith seem familiar, in that they behave in a way that we might have come to expect from particular cinematic/pop-cultural ‘types’; and their posing for Alien suggests learnt behaviour based on what they might expect from a ‘gangster’s’ moll, or groupie, even, and this double assumption means that the viewer is ever questioning how seriously to take all this brightly coloured mayhem.
What eventually transpires proves that wry incredulity is perhaps the right approach all along, as the characters actions become more implausible; the final scene a beautifully constructed fantasy of almost arbitrary violence. Before their chicken-shack hold-up, Candy encouraged her cohorts to ‘pretend they’re in a movie’ (one of the film’s less effective moments) in order to get in the frame of mind for ‘armed’ robbery, but a later flashback depicts the episode as raw and disturbing – their manic, graphic, verbal fireworks having the desired – terrifying – affect on their victims. By the end, Candy and Brit enact the kind of overblown computer-game styled killing spree that they perhaps imagined all along.