A few months ago, I called Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers one of my favorite films released so far this decade. It’s a neon-infused mind fuck freak show that I can’t get enough of. I was recently invited to participate in a LAMBcast discussion of the film (which will be posted on or around this Friday), and in preparation for that podcast, I decided to rewatch the movie. But this time, I paid close attention to the things I love most about Spring Breakers that are rarely discussed. Here’s what I found.
The faint sounds of crashing waves, idle chatter in the distance – peaceful, serene. BAM, Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” blares away, the title card flicks into focus. You think you know what you’re in for? Ha. You have no fucking clue.
I don’t care how many movies you’ve seen – you’ve never seen a flick open like this. Hold tight, ‘cuz here we go.
If you look at that TV playing cartoons, you’ll notice the screen is flickering. That means two things: one, Spring Breakers was shot on film (TV and computer screens don’t flicker when captured on a digital camera), and two, you know that cartoon was actually playing on set, which is very rare. Most filmmakers add images for TV and computer screens later in post. This isn’t really significant to anyone except film geeks, but if you know how rare both of these things are, it may allow you to appreciate the film more.
The first time I saw this movie, when the shot of Vanessa Hudgens taking a rip from a bong came on, I knew this flick wasn’t messing around. A Disney image-shattering shot, right up front. So audacious.
The shot of this girl just sitting on her ledge. Who’s she? What’s going through her mind?
Has a college lecture room ever looked more trippy?
The amount of frustration Candy (Hudgens) puts into spitting out the cap from her marker.
Korine wrote the preacher part for Val Kilmer, but he got sick right before shooting. Still, Jeff Jarrett does a fine job. “Are ya JACKED up on Jesus?!”
The way the camera spins down and pans around the prayer circle. There’s some Irreversible in that shot, a film also lensed by genius DP, Benoît Debie.
Brit (Ashley Benson) studying the water pistol, as if to wonder, “Hmmm, what else can this thing do?”
Faith (Selena Gomez) not clapping in the prayer circle.
“I hope you pray down there in Florida.”
“Pray SUPER hardcore.”
The way the cinematography is literally grounded in these first act establishing shots, hugging the ground or the wall. The stillness of these shots is almost comforting, which is a perfect juxtaposition for the madness of the rest of the film.
Love how Faith’s roommate barely says anything, but the other three girls get so pissed at her. I mean, they’re in her room.
This was the scene that made me fall in love with Spring Breakers. The performers really make you believe that going on spring break is absolutely necessary. They have to go to escape their boring, ordinary lives. This isn’t about partying, this is about finding themselves. It sounds so silly to write that out, but these actresses, particularly Gomez, are so damn convincing. “This is more than just spring break. This is our chance to see something different.”
The sound design is talked about a lot, but really pay attention to it. Notice how the flicker of this lighter sounds like the hammer of a gun being pulled back.
The film uses repetition so damn well. Shots are duplicated, monologues are repeated, each time with a different inflection – it should be distracting (and I’m sure it is to some), but it’s so effective for the film’s unique tone. Editor Douglas Crise deserved an Oscar nomination for his work here.
The sharpness of these lens flares.
The way this big dude keeps eating during the robbery.
Remember: this is a professor’s car these gals are torching. Love them.
Brit excitedly flipping out at what I assume is Faith’s first bong hit.
The jump cuts of the bus. They’re on their way, never to return.
Old dude fist pumping in the bottom left. ‘Sup.
As the girls get to spring break, we hear a series of voiceovers of them leaving their loved ones voicemails. All these messages are in past tense, which means spring break has already happened. So is everything we see from here on out a dream? Or a fantastical remembrance? Heightened reality?
Brit and Candy making fun of Faith in the pool. One of the early signs that little ol’ Faith just doesn’t belong.
You think things are going to go very, very wrong for Cotty (Korine’s real life wife, Rachel) at the hands of these guys. But everything’s ultimately fine. I love how Korine plays with our perceptions throughout the film.
Hudgens’ voice getting all “thug” as she tells Faith how they robbed the chicken shack.
This digital effect during the hotel party scene. They’re flying now.
Cross cutting the party with the girls being arrested. Genius.
Love how the girls and the creepy male twins are the only people shown getting arrested from the party. Like… why JUST them?
Another great Debie move: the camera pushes in on the girls sitting in jail, then pans up, twirls around, masks a hidden cut, and comes back down to find the girls standing in a new location. Love that shit.
“We do it right here in St. Petes. We do it gansta! GAAANGSTAAA!”
The scene where Alien (James Franco) tries to comfort Faith is the moment everything changes in the film. This is the point where Spring Breakers becomes a fantasy. Nothing after this scene is to be taken literally. It’s real within the world of the movie (similarly to how superheroes are real in the world of a comic book film), but it’s not real to life, so to speak. For me, it’s the highlight of a film filled with memorable set pieces.
Look at Hudgens’ face as they are hugging Faith goodbye. One of the girls says “Don’t leave us,” and Hudgens lets out a sarcastic little chuckle as if to say, “No, for real though, she’s boring and she should leave.” It’s those details that make a great performance.
My favorite musical moment in the movie: Skrillex’s beautifully melancholic track “Ride Home” plays as Faith leaves Florida. Probably the most restrained song Skrillex has ever recorded, and Ellie Goulding’s vocals bring tears to my eyes.
“Yeah you took me to the ocean that one time. That’s the only time I ever been.”
“Taught yo ass how to swim”
The Twins wearing bulletproof vests as they cut up blow. Because at this point… why not?
Again, the first time I saw this scene, I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen. Candy and Brit are basically using the same phrases they did during their robbery. Could go anywhere. Then it goes somewhere we never expected.
The “Everytime” montage has be talked about a lot, rightfully so. But something that’s never mentioned is the fact that Alien is robbing these spring breakers without a mask, yet he also performs at massive spring break parties. Dude literally doesn’t give a fuck.
“He takin’ food out my baby’s mouth, and my baby’s hungry…” he says while sitting in his mansion in front of a huge pile of weed worth thousands.
Love these subjective camera shots of Franco. An Alien unhinged.
The fact that Candy and Brit call to their moms after they’ve already killed all of Big Arch’s crew.
Fun fact: the music during the raid on Arch’s house is a stringed version of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” the Skrillex song that opens the film.
While on the phone with her mom, Candy says, “God, it was so nice to get a break from reality for a while.” It’s fantasy – all fantasy. At least that’s how I’ve always interpreted it. “Just pretend like it’s a video game.”
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