"Spontaneous" and "The Witches of Eastwick" are this week's selections.
We're at the halfway point of Cringe Blog's monthlong reign, so I decided to give everyone a breather and recommend two comedy-adjacent films this week. They're still spooky and/or tension-filled, of course, but they act as a bit of a respite.
Google Play/Vudu, rated R, 97 minutes
The first thing you should know about "Spontaneous" is that it's a movie about teenagers exploding like tomatoes thrown at a bad comedian. There's no getting around that. If you don't deal well with blood, don't watch this film because there's so much of it here. It's like the climax of "Carrie" but throughout the whole movie. High schoolers are just constantly splattering into a Jackson Pollock painting.
Now that we have all come to terms with that fact: "Spontaneous" is wonderful entry into the horror rom-com canon. After one of her classmates explodes, Mara (Katherine Langford) and her fellow high school seniors are taken to the local police station for questioning (and a change of clothes because the blood on their outfits is evidence). It's during and after this incident that she connects with Dylan (Charlie Plummer), a film nerd with whom she's had a few classes but never chatted up. They quickly fall for each other as their classmates continue to die at an alarming rate, bonding over shared grief and fear. Together, they try to figure out how to live when everything around them is so messed up.
Mara and Dylan's relationship is classically cute. They're both on the fringes of their senior class, not unpopular or bullied but not candidates for prom king and queen either. They're weird. At one point, Dylan admits he first started his crush when he saw Mara bite a dude's hand while at a restaurant. Dylan himself openly makes references to Cronenberg movies that only Mara understands. Langford and Plummer have winning chemistry and are equally adept at the emotional scenes once they start coming. I also want to shout out Hayley Law, who plays Mara's best friend, Tess, and Chelah Horsdal, who play's Dylan's mom, Denise. Both are great in their respective roles, with Law getting a lot of laughs and Horsdal showing up for the film's best scene.
As sweet as the film can be, it's also very much a Cringe Blog movie. There's a pervasive tension running throughout the whole film. That's what happens when characters might literally explode at any second. A few explosions are telegraphed, but others aren't. Once you're hit with a surprise death a few times, you come to always be bracing yourself for it. That tension makes every moment our protagonists are together mean even more. For all we know, it could be their last. As doctors try (and fail) to figure out why this is happening, the anxiety only escalates. The second half of the film gets especially dark, as our lovers turn to alcohol to help numb the pain.
"Spontaneous" is not a perfect film. Director Brian Duffield tries to do a few too many different things at once — there's no reason to have a constant narrator and two characters that occasionally break the fourth wall. The last act of the film is also a little heavy-handed in its messaging; there are only so many conversations you can hear about living with no regrets before you start to roll your eyes. But these are minor complains in the grand scheme of things.
Of all the various pieces of media that can be summed up by "YOLO" from the past decade, "Spontaneous" might be the best. It's tough to make that message feel anything less than cliche, but everyone involved succeeds in doing that here. The film feels current, using (great) needle drops from artists like Julien Baker and Sufjan Stevens to impart a sense of mood. It's not hard to imagine a swath of 17-year-olds watching this and finding their new favorite film. Even if you're just young at heart, it's easy to fall in love with "Spontaneous."
As long as you're good with blood. Because, again, there is just so much of it.
"The Witches of Eastwick" (1987)
Prime Video, rated R, 118 minutes
The plot of "The Witches of Eastwick," the George Miller screwball comedy, hardly matters when you have Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Jack Nicholson in the same film. I'd watch that trio make chili for two hours. But because the film's skeleton is the Cringe Blog part, I'll explain it as quickly as possible.
Pfeiffer, Sarandon and Cher are witches. I guess. This isn't ever explicitly stated, but it would be weird if this movie was called "The Witches of Eastwick," and it turns out there weren't any witches in it, just three women who met every week and did vaguely witchlike things. They don't even do any on-purpose magic for the first 95% of the film! But I digress. They're witches.
They're witches, and they're lonely. Pfeiffer and Sarandon are divorcees, and Cher is a widower. They want male attention, so they start dreaming: Wouldn't it be nice if a charming stranger rode into town and swept us off our feet?
Good news and bad news, ladies. Good news: A charming stranger (Nicholson) is coming! Bad news: He's literally the devil.
That's basically the whole movie. There's a side plot involving Veronica Cartwright and an impossibly young-looking Richard Jenkins, as Cartwright feels in her gut that this strange man is the epitome of evil, and Jenkins tries to comfort her, and she gets more and more erratic. But most of our time is spent with the Big Four, as Nicholson repulses then seduces each of the witches before they become a big happy family — for a while.
"The Witches of Eastwick" is insane for many reasons, but the thing that fascinates me most is that it's a sex comedy that features no sex. They talk about sex a lot, sure, and you understand when two characters are meant to be going to bed together, but they don't show it. There's no nudity at all, in fact. Miller is much more interested in being silly, like when Sarandon's character is playing the cello with Nicholson, and she gets so revved up that the cello catches on fire. Or when Pfeiffer dares to say Nicholson's name, causing her pearl necklace (which most people in their town clutch at the mention of anything sexual) to explode.
It's a film rife with jokes about how it feels to give in to your darkest desires, both before and after you do so. Everyone is great in it. Nicholson's casting is perfect; the film wouldn't work if you couldn't both buy him as a womanizer and as the embodiment of hell. You need to be a bit scared of him even as he's making you laugh. It's an off-the-wall performance, but it works.
There's not much else I can say about this one. You really need to see it for yourself to believe it exists. It's smart and stupid and good. Also, at one point, Cher tells Nicholson, "You're not even interesting enough to make me sick," which is a phenomenal insult. All right, well, bye!