Spontaneous (2020)

Review: Spontaneous (2020)

Seniors at the local high school are spontaneously exploding. No one knows why, or when it will stop. This is the premise of Spontaneous, written and directed by Brian Duffield. Up until this point, Duffield has just been a very busy screenwriter. We’ve already reviewed him twice in 2020 alone, for both Underwater and Love and Monsters. He also wrote the very-fun Babysitter, which I’m sure will make it on the site soon.

In Spontaneous, Duffield shies away a bit from the genre themes with which he’s had so much success. Well… sort of. It’s as if he set out to make a coming-of age film for all generations: the morbid humor of Heathers from the 80s, the rapid fire dialog of every 90s independent film, and the twee sensibilities of the 00s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But also: kids are exploding. And when they explode, it’s not just a little puff of smoke. It’s a geyser of blood. Picture having to scoop blood out of the floor of a car because the driver has exploded and you can’t find the pedals due to how much blood there is. That kind of exploding. Duffield takes his love of the horror genre and tosses it right into the teen film stew that he’s cooking.

Mixing all of those things leads to, at the very least, a bit of an inconsistent tone. At the same time, the way Heathers did before it, Spontaneous establishes the strange tone of this world early on and invites the viewer along for the ride. If you don’t like your characters talking directly to camera, or having conversations full of banter and vocabulary you’d never hear in real life (let alone out of 17 year-olds), then this was not a film made for you. Likewise, if you can’t stomach watching people repeatedly fire-hosed with gallons of blood, this film sadly also was not made for you. I could have done without was the “Fight Club Jr.” outro monologue, but for the most part I thought the film was creative without being obnoxious. Duffield never leans in to any of those elements in excess, managing to utilize them to explain the very inconsistent real-life experiences of being on the verge of graduating. It’s funny and scary and sad and gross and happy.

The screenplay is based on a book written by Aaron Starmer and published in 2016, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the isolation and morbid uncertainty faced by 2020 teens in the face of the COVID pandemic and the seniors within the film being sent home from school, not sure what their future holds. The script is able to take the seemingly random acts of violence as a way of unpacking how difficult it is to be that age and come to terms mortality and the idea that bad things happen for no reason.

In pulling from elements from any teen film since the 80s, it’s as if the film is asking anyone who has graduated high school in the last 40 years to remember a time when they felt the same way as the protagonists. I could picture seeing this when I was 16 and loving it the same way I loved Empire Records, Heathers, or The Breakfast Club. Except in this one, people explode.