I honestly can’t remember the last time I reviewed a feature film because, honestly, reviewing streaming series that I was watching anyway meant I didn’t have to do extra work to generate review material. But when Amazon shows me a banner ad for an R-rated comedy wherein high school seniors are forced to examine their lives because they start exploding for no reason, then I will find the time to watch it.
I’d never seen these cast members or heard of this director before but I’m sure they’ve all got bright futures. Spontaneous is really, really, really good. As in, 98% positive at Rotten Tomatoes good. Mild spoilers ahead.
In spite of its title Spontaneous doesn’t actually contain any spontaneous human combustion. The high school students (played by a shockingly age-appropriate cast) simply pop like huge blood balloons. Faced with the possibility of a random, unavoidable death, they either crack under the pressure or do some serious growing up. Or, in the case of our main character, both.
Mara (Katherine Langford) is a senior trying to stay awake in math class one day when another girl in the room, apropos of nothing, explodes in a shower of gore. Mara and her best friend Tess (Hayley Law) frankly admit to one another that they have no idea how to feel about it, and furthermore that they have other things on their mind like graduation and college applications. They resume their lives with one change; a boy in Mara’s class named Dylan (Charlie Plummer), is motivated by this death to confesses he has had a crush on Mara for two years and flat out tells her that he wants to pursue it. Impressed by his disarming honesty and his ability to turn a phrase, she agrees to spend some time with him. But things change radically when another student spontaneously explodes at the homecoming game. No longer an isolated incident, the students are herded into a containment facility and examined. Not long after, they start examining themselves.
Not all of them, of course. This is a movie, not a series. But Mara, Dylan and Tess all take a hard look at themselves and what they expected from life. Dylan has the best grasp on their situation, having already confessed his feelings to Mara and taken further steps to get what he can out of life knowing that he might die at any moment. As events progress more students die, and with an explanation still illusive, those who survive start to break under the stress. Mara takes solace in her new boyfriend and his remarkably clearheaded attitude, while Tess starts to feel the fear. And while a treatment is eventually discovered (too late for too many) that will stop further explosions, the movie does itself the favor of never explaining why the students started exploding; because that just isn’t what this movie is about.
The thing to watch for here is the quality of the acting and the overall skill with which the story is told. All three leads are outstanding. They’re conscious of the fact that they’re in a horror-romance-comedy, but still manage to feel extremely human and relatable. This movie has not one ounce of cynicism anywhere in it; Director Brian Duffield’s does not pander or apologize. This combined with his obvious talent for pacing and character direction results in a movie which, while not very subtle, accomplishes everything it sets out to do in exactly the right way. Go see it now.