I saw this technicolor-vomit stunt flick the way it was meant to be seen: Surrounded by haters. My film critic pal Asawin dragged me and my roommate Ben over to a late night screening, at Georgetown’s K Street cinema, which has made the transition from “the theater you need to go to if you’re trying to see something new” to “the theater that flypapers smarmy college students.” We sat in front of Millennials matched up boy-girl-boy-girl, and they were heckling, sotto voce, within the first five minutes.
Again: This did not ruin the cinematic experience. “Spring Breakers” is delightful trash, with bare breasts and simulated sex and sleazy talk in every scene. It opens with a montage set to Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” which I’d known previously as the “SKRREEEEEE-DNH-DNH-DNHHHHHH-DNH-DNH-DNHHHH” song. We hear the whole, unpleasant song, and suffer through young, tanned bodies dancing and drinking in slow motion. Fratty boys hold beercans over their cocks and poor the nectar into the mouths of horny girls. Bikinis are ripped off in slow motion. Girls who’ll grow up to marry real estate developers and lawyers deep-throat rainbow ice cream bars. This was the discriminating viewer’s cue to walk out, but it would be another forty-odd minutes until anyone in our theater did so.
They were reacting to a story both gross and formulaic. Harmony Korine says he’s “throwing a stick of dynamite into the Zeitgeist,” which is one way to say he’s given Selena Gomez eternal indie cred. A cynical cineaste sees that he’s just followed in the tracks of “Deliverance” and “Band of Outsiders,” films in which (respectively) four friends go south to lose themselves in a throwback culture, and fall into a happy romance with violent crime.
Brit, Candy, Cotty, and Faith are students at an anonymous college in Kentucky. The first time we see most of them, they’re writing filthy messages (“I NEED PENIS”) to each other in class. I said “most” because one of the girls — no points guessing which — is a churchy, sullen sort who goes to a hip youth service but seems bored. Brit, Candy, and Cotty realize that their spring break fund is low, so they put on ski masks and knock over the local Chicken Shack. (Almost everyone they rob is black.) Newly enriched, they head down to St. Petersburg on a party bus and get blotto in a series of trash-able motels. One of the parties is broken up by cops, as sometimes happens when glassy-eyed drug dealers are spreading cocaine everywhere, and the girls go to a jail where nobody thinks to replace their bikinis with prison garb or, you know, shirts. Alien (James Franco), a rapper/drug dealer, pays their bail and brings them, willingly, into a few days of gun-toting mayhem.
My friend Tim Brayton basically nails this movie. It’s 90% of a morality play. We in the audience are made to despise the girls. Faith leaves Florida after Alien subjects her to some terrifying flirtation. The other three play with Alien’s guns and obtain costumes that will be copied by thousands of real girls with bad taste — pink baclavas with unicorn patches, black sweatpants with DTF written on the ass. (Google it. DTF, not ass.) We see them ruin a wedding and separate some bros for their teeth, before they massacre a mansion full of drug dealers.
Here’s the rub: Nothing bad happens to them. One girl is shot in the arm after a dealer (played sullenly by Gucci Mane) sprays the group with an Uzi. One shot. That’s it. She weeps and splits. The other girls commit a slow-motion slaughter (to the soundtrack of that Skrillex song, played by an orchestra), and don’t even get grazed by returned fire. They speed off in Gucci’s orange Lamborghini, returning to Kentucky, presumably, on the same road upon which we saw the spring break party bus.
It’s an exploitation movie, but the girls aren’t the exploited party. Korine gives his young wife Rachel a disturbing scene, trapping her in a motel room where pre-obesity frat guys pour liquor everywhere and try to get in her pants. But they fail. “You’re never gonna get this puuuuu-sssssy,” she sings, blacked out and on the floor. And she’s right. The girls are never again in real danger. It’s them, not Alien, who brandish guns as phallic symbols. The people being exploited here are the poor blacks and whites, all cartoon characters portrayed as murderous thugs. The girls are on a lark, and the sex and crime is there to amuse them — amuse us.
Like Tim says, it’s gorgeously shot. Korine’s previous concept film Mr. Lonely was beautiful, too, but it meandered toward a Big Lesson. There’s no lesson here, just John Waters trash. I liked it, but you don’t want to make the same mistakes as me…