Spontaneous is a trickster disguised as your typical coming-of-age romance. With its quirky camera-work, self-deprecating humor, and gonzo premise — there’s a lot within Spontaneous that gives you the impression you’re simply in for a goofy love story with a few gallons of blood on the side — but who can blame anyone for thinking that? Because that’s exactly what is dished out for a large portion of the film; until it isn’t.
Spontaneous is about as bizarre a coming-of-age film as you can get; simply, a class of high-schoolers begin spontaneously exploding. The story primarily follows two of these teens who are part of the afflicted class, Mara (Katherine Langford) and Dylan (Charlie Plummer) as they develop an unlikely romance throughout this intensely gory phase in their lives. This oddball premise is the “fuel” that this film uses to feed drama and heartache for its characters. But make no mistake, Spontaneous isn’t really about gory explosions, it’s about Mara — or more specifically it’s about her experience through this ordeal.
Mara, on the surface appears to be your typical moody teenager; she’s got wise quips and edgy sarcastic comments filling the end of every sentence she spews out. Like the story itself, Mara is a bit of a puzzle; it isn’t until later into the film that we begin to understand that her problems in life started long before the explosions did. All of this is supported by a powerful foundation from Katherine Langford. Spontaneous is a film that shifts its tone a lot, going from goofy to lamentable in a blink; having Langford provide such a flexible performance means you truly do root for Mara to survive this entire ordeal.
When you sit back and lament on the premise of Spontaneous it’s hard not to chuckle at the absurdity of it all. Of course in a vacuum, the death of high-schoolers is by no means an amusing subject matter; but the way in which Spontaneous is executing these death sequences most certainly can be. It’s all intentional. It’s like watching Uma Thurman decapitate three men with one swing of her sword in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), there’s something amusing about the ridiculousness of it all… until there isn’t. It’s not long before these explosions become less and less amusing; with each bloody blast the reality of the situation begins to take on a new form. Terror.
Now when I say the film doesn’t provide a logical reason as to why kids are exploding that doesn’t mean there isn’t a “purpose” for it from a storytelling perspective. The explosions themselves are what the title of the movie suggests they are… spontaneous. But they’re more than that; the explosions are mysterious, merciless, and meaningless — and that’s the point. The message that Spontaneous is attempting to convey is really all about the chaos of life; that life is for the most part, out of our control. In many ways, exploding high-schoolers is the perfect narrative device to reflect the chaos that is life.
Spontaneous features a wonderful array of neat visual tricks that seamlessly fit into this genre-blending film. Spontaneous contains an alluring and hypnotic aesthetic; with gorgeous colour-grading that elevates the emotion in every scene and a camera that doesn’t like to sit still as it whip-pans or tracks; the result keeps the viewer engaged throughout the entirety of the film. Brain Duffield also has a knack to pull off fourth-wall-breaking narration without it feeling gimmicky.
While the production design does not showcase any particularly interesting set-designs or locations, it never dampens the film’s aesthetic, it’s clear Duffield knows his vision for this film. The make-up and art department go all-in on the gore, as expected, exploding teenagers call for blood, a lot of blood; this can begin to feel repetitive by the 10th explosion. Spontaneous’s lack of score helps elevate the raw emotion the students are going through as we get to feel the fear, panic and sadness without having a musical piece distract the viewers from what is going on screen.
This is a film that makes it mark within the coming-of-age genre; it provides genuine popcorn fun for all age demographics, but importantly it proves that, regardless of how wacky a plot can be on the surface, if the writing is strong and the direction is assured, an entertaining film will result. Spontaneous is the quiet sleeper hit of the year that I most certainly didn’t see coming – providing about as much emotional weight as it does amusing gory explosions.