On the surface it looks like a sleazy, exploitative, sexist festival of bikini clad women and vicious violence. Spring Breakers, from mischievous filmmaker and artist Harmony Korine, has a DNA made up of ingredients from a cocktail such as this, and some may find it reprehensible. But for me, it’s too self-aware, deliberately provocative and over-the-top to be found truly guilty. Instead, Korine has made a movie that defies expectations and throws viewers into a surreal and unforgettable world. It left me amazed and desperate to see it again.
Part of the joke about Spring Breakers comes down to it starring two ex-Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens and Selina Gomez. They are part of a group of university students (including Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine) who commit a violent crime to fund their trip to Florida. When they get there they indulge in hard drugs, alcohol and spend most of their time in bikinis. They are arrested for drugs, and their bail is paid by a rapper named Alien (a magnificent James Franco). Their adventure really takes off from there.
As I have said, some will not like this film. I admit, I was worried about it. Too many films aimed at teenagers portray drugs as a harmless activity, but this movie is different. The world the characters inhabit in this film is a hyper-real, stylised version of reality. It’s a candy-coloured fantasy. And the drug use is far from uncritical. Though the side effects of dangerous drugs such as marijuana and cocaine are not shown in detail, the dark side of such a lifestyle is not left unexplored.
Korin’s greatest asset is cinematographer Benoît Debie. Korin has said that he wanted the film to look like it was lit with ‘Starburst candy’. It really does. The whole thing looks like a sugary neon dream. A deliciously sweet confection with a very bitter edge. It’s like being lost in a dream that scares you but, at the same time, you don’t want to leave its grasp.
Repetitive, morally ambiguous and rather strange, Spring Breakers will divide viewers. I found it to be one of the most visually intelligent, exciting and mesmerising pictures of recent years. The very best films entirely convince the viewer they are part of the world depicted onscreen. Spring Breakers succeeds in this respect. Regardless of whether you want to be part of such a world or not (and in reality, I certainly would not want to be), the film draws you into its hypnotic landscape with skill, verve and style.
Spring Breakers (2013), directed by Harmony Korine, is released in the UK by Vertigo Films, Certificate 18.