Spontaneous review – bloody high-school horror hits raw nerve | Film

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Surely somebody somewhere, is writing a PhD thesis right now on existential nihilism, self-harm and postmodern horror in American YA fiction, TV and films of the 2010s onwards. If not, I may write one myself, because there is a rich seam to draw on, and this latest one is sure to become part of the canon. Think The Fault in Our Stars meets 13 Reasons Why meets Chuck Palahniuk meets David Cronenberg’s Scanners. That last work is specifically referenced here because the film’s core conceit is that one day, for no logical reason, a teenager physically explodes during a maths class, splattering her fellow students with blood.

Narrator-protagonist Mara (Katherine Langford, who, in flashback, played the main plot instigator of the aforementioned 13 Reasons Why) is sitting right behind her exploding classmate and gets a particular drenching. The experience is, of course, traumatic for her, her best friend Tess (Hayley Law from Riverdale) and everyone else in the class, but life goes on. Mara tentatively starts dating cute geek and future pin-up for Non-Threatening Boy magazine Dylan (Charlie Plummer), who finally summons the courage to seize the day and ask her out in the wake of the spontaneous corporeal explosion, and they plan to go to the homecoming reunion together. But then at a football game, another kid blows up, and then another, and soon the whole cohort is locked in a quarantined facility and fed drugs with a debatable success rate.

This debut feature from writer-director Brian Duffield (best known for his screenplays for Underwater, The Babysitter and Jane Got a Gun) has plenty of gallows humour to leaven the gore and tragedy, and plenty of subtexts swimming under the surface like glittering, metaphorical koi. The film is based on a 2016 book by Aaron Starmer, so the weirdly resonant parallels with the current Covid-19 crisis are surely accidental even if there is a political dimension at play. There are references to Trump’s election and the despair it instilled in Gen-Z kids, the culture wars brewing all around today, and the anxieties arising from living in an age when anyone could die suddenly from a sinkhole opening up or a school shooting. Although some look a smidge old to be playing high schoolers, the cast are excellent, the technical polish is high-grade and the obligatory neo-emo soundtrack appropriately gloomy-sweet.

Spontaneous is released on 12 October on digital formats

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Source: The Guardian
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