Joshua Reviews Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers [SXSW 2013 Review]


Starting off his career as a writer, director Harmony Korine has become one of this generation’s foremost provocateurs. Be it the broad beauty of a film like Mister Lonely or the aggressive angst and meditative brilliance of the underrated classic Trash Humpers, Korine has proven himself to be as much a master filmmaker as this generation has seen.

And he’s back, and back with a vengeance.

Spring Breakers posits a deceitfully simplistic narrative. From the outset, we are introduced to four college students, four young women looking to escape their mundane existence. However, without enough money to embark on their long talked about spring break vacation, they decide to take matters into their own hands, robbing a local establishment. Reassured by the movies and videogames they watch and play, three of the four go into the robbery with the disturbing confidence and excitement, culminating in them getting their much needed money. However, when things go south during their time down south, we become privy to as stark and perverse a meditation on the American dream as we’ve seen in quite some time.

Korine has never been better. Miles past anything, craft wise, he’s ever made, Korine’s vision of the American Dream is Malickian. With tinges of Badlands-esque breadth and lyricism, Korine’s frame is beautifully composed and his camera is ever moving. A far cry from his fever dream of an experiment that was Trash Humpers, the film feels like a narrative fiction adaptation of that stark proto-documentary. Both are opposite sides of a bleak coin, and Korine expands his cinematic language to blend Badlands style Malick and his own style of provocation into a film that is truly unlike anything you have ever seen.

Featuring neon lit photography from Gaspar Noe’s right hand man, cinematographer Benoit Debie (best known for his equally gorgeous work on both Enter The Void and Irreversible), the influence of Noe (a man who Korine has had a close relationship with for some time) is apparent. The free flowing, dream like camera is bewilderingly unlike anything Korine’s done in some time, and the photography adds a level of drug fueled beauty to an already obtuse feature. Far heavier than the dubstep scored marketing materials may have you believing, Korine may be sparking a new moment in his career, one that may see him become the master fans of his have always seen him as.

The film also uses music to its advantage. Featuring hauntingly subversive source music ranging from Skrillex (who helped score the film with Cliff Martinez) to Britney Spears (there is a montage set to a song from the legendary singer that may be the greatest montage ever filmed), the film posits that this entire generation has become entirely fueled by its consumption of media. Blending the posited violence of rap music (Franco himself plays a rapper inspired by the laughably awful Riff-Raff) to the perverse innocence of modern pop music, the film is a dreamlike meditation on an entire generation. Again, similar in thought to the equally American Dream focused Trash Humpers, Korine appears driven by pop culture, and just how off kilter it truly is.

And subverting the material even more are performances from a cast that have never been better.

Inspired by the innocent, yet violent, nature of modern pornography (admitted so during the rather interesting, if odd, post screening Q/A after the film’s North American premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival), Korine has cast a handful of Hollywood A-listers and given them material unlike anything they have seen. Led by his four girls (played beautifully by Selina Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine and Ashley Benson), the foursome are the exact nightmare had by middle class American parents. Innocence is oozed out of every pore of these four girls, only to have that perverted by the media they consume, inspiring them to believe that they can do anything, and everything, to get what they believe they rightly deserve. With a sense if invincibility given to them by the world surrounding them, they become fodder for Alien, played with an energy beyond star James Franco’s past work. All five are at the very top of their games, adding a depth and vitality to a film that has that already in spades. Toss in a really brooding and dark turn from rapper Gucci Mane (the physical manifestation of everything his image, and his music, stand for) and you have a film that is far greater than anyone could imagine.

Sure to spark a firestorm closer to its release theatrically at the end of March, Spring Breakers is a nightmare look at the modern American Dream, and how today’s youth sees it as nothing more than a glorified Girls Gone Wild video. With style and atmosphere to burn, Korine’s film blends neon visuals with a rhythmic narrative into the body of a film as bleak as Trash Humpers, and as aggressively provocative as a Godard film. It’s all summed up in the film’s oft-repeated mantra: Spring Break forever, bitches.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.