Brian Duffield’s Spontaneous is both darkly funny and emotionally satisfying. It stands as one of 2020’s unexpected surprise films.
A dark comedy that has more in common with Heathers than you’d expect. Grounded by Katherine Langford’s winning performance Spontaneous is not your average high school film.
Mara (Langford) was your average New Jersey High School Senior until a classmate spontaneous combusts during third period. That incident triggers a huge investigation and Mara meeting Dylan (Plummer). As Mara and Dylan’s friendship and eventual romance blossoms, more of their fellow Seniors begin to also burst into literal blood baths. Will the couple survive, can the government scientist figure out the cause of this anomaly?
Duffield’s adaptation of the Aaron Starmer novel is R-Rated for the right reasons. This isn’t some sort of raunchy teen sex comedy with gore gags. The film secretly amps up the emotional core by delivering it with some great dark humor and witty writing. This isn’t the type of film where teenagers are talking like adults. They’re smart but there is enough immaturity and spry youth that it feels like a teenager is guiding the narrative.
The film is greatly helped by the star performances by leads Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer. Many films about teenagers push romances with leads that have no chemistry or are engaging. Langford and Plummer on their own are each magnetic, together they’re magical. From the moment they begin to interact, over a great David Cronenberg moment, Mara and Dylan rightfully become the focal point of the film. Their banter and interactions have the playfulness that the best romantic films have.
Langford has worked up to this moment for the last few years. Spontaneous gives the actor center stage for her specific talents. Both an adept comedian and dramatic actor Langford is plays Mara in all her emotional states. The film requires her to not just be charming but to go to some dark places. During even most dramatic and unappealing moments Langford connections with the audience in a way that you’re always understanding of her actions.
The chemistry between the two is what levels Spontaneous up from good to great. It is one of the few modern teen films that won’t have you rolling your eyes as the couple becomes a couple. It also strengthens the second half of the film which creates some of the best tension in a film this year. Even as the film’s more serious second-half plays out; Duffield’s script never loses its humorous bite and Langford’s wit and charm. Even if it uses it in very different ways than one would expect.
Spontaneous is a great surprise for anyone that doesn’t mind a little dark humor and sci-fi based gore interjected into their teen films. Though, calling Spontaneous a teen film feels like an insult or disservice. Duffield’s film is more akin to Heathers than any other of the genre. A film that understands teenagers’ acerbic dark wit as terrible things befall them and their friends. Though unlike Heathers, Spontaneous will give you a case of the feels, even if you don’t want them.