Teenagers randomly bursting into red clouds of gorey mist might not sound like the ideal setting for young romance to blossom, but such is life in Spontaneous. Writer/director Brian Duffield gives the novel by Aaron Starmer wonderful cinematic life and with two great lead performances from Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer there’s little to complain about in this black comedy romance sci-fi thriller. All those genres mixing together works out well here, I’d say, so don’t let that assortment deter you.
Mara’s (Katherine Langford) senior year of high school turns out more challenging than she ever could have expected when fellow students start spontaneously popping like bloody balloons. If that weren’t enough to deal with, she meets a classmate named Dylan (Charlie Plummer) who inspires the kinds of feelings Mara isn’t necessarily prepared for. Mara, best friend Tess (Hayley Law), and Dylan navigate a final year of high school that may just end in a puff of red mist at any moment while doing their best to laugh in the face of danger.
What I want to talk about first, frankly, is the thriller aspect of Spontaneous. I mean, it’s not a traditional “thriller” with a menace who’s around sometimes for scenes of heightened tension before withdrawing to the periphery while other plot/character proceedings take place. The undercurrent of tension here is ever-present with the menace an unseen, seemingly random and indiscriminate force causing instant bloody death.
There aren’t really ever any safe moments to just take a breath, even during laughter, which I find actually pretty rare to come across. It might not be for everyone, but I kind of loved the feature length sustained tension of a knotted stomach I only ever really felt end when the credits rolled. Spontaneous reminded me of some of my favorite examples of film/TV over the years when I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from moment to moment (of which I was going to list some, but then I thought of too many and that’s not what this is about so stop asking).
Black comedy and romance are more at the forefront, though, and both are just as well-executed as the constant tension. Leads Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer as the star-crossed lovers sell the chemistry and peas-in-a-pod nature of young love flawlessly, like a blood-splattered Before Sunrise. They find in each other a special someone who gets their weird humor, who wants to help them be their best self, and all that fun stuff that comes when you click with somebody. Perhaps most importantly, however, Spontaneous makes me *care* about them making googly eyes at each other.
The supporting cast of best friend Hayley Law, Yvonne Orji as a government agent tasked with helping how possible, Piper Perabo & Rob Huebel as Mara’s parents, and all the kids who make up the (exploding) student body as well as their parents fill out a solid roster with a few faces the viewer might be sad to see go poof. Also, I don’t think I’ll ever see one of those family decals on car windows again without thinking of Spontaneous so kudos to you all!
Things happen, often quite randomly or out of one’s control and without explanation, so what can anyone ever do but make the most of things with people you care about while you can? While I already came to that conclusion about life a good while ago I think Spontaneous certainly makes an entertaining and involving case for it. As Morty Smith once said, “nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die” so why not give this one a shot and experience the volatility of young love once again? Now with more exploding people!
9 out of 10 Knotted Stomachs