Spring Breakers

Year: 2012
Production Co: Muse Productions
Director: Harmony Korine
Writer: Harmony Korine
Cast: Selenz Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco

The first thing I noticed about this movie was that I wanted to hate it. As soon as the girls arrive in Miami for spring break you know you're in a movie – every girl is a supermodel wearing a string bikini she's only too happy to tear off, every boy is ripped and wearing board shorts and they're all cavorting and dancing in the water with those huge plastic yard glasses. It's every film director's fantasy of what spring break looks like and it rubs me the wrong way.

But I couldn't hate it as much as I wanted to. It's easy to dismiss as Girls Gone Wild With Guns, but it has such a distinctive style in both the tawdry neon pop art visuals and the storytelling it's impossible to ignore and hard to dislike no matter how much you think you've seen the tropes before.

Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hugdens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) mostly seem like good girls and even though they're all nicely set up with distinct personalities early on (which will play a part later), they're given to a little bit of rebellious behaviour. When they find themselves alone at college, everyone else having left for spring break, they start their journey off the rails by stealing one of their teachers' cars to make the trip.

The quite shocking next step perpetrated by the wildest of the group (Brit, Cotty and Candy) is to hold up a late night diner for cash to finance their adventure, and they finally make it to the beach to immerse themselves in alcohol, drugs, parties and a level of hedonism it's hard to believe doesn't up in with sexual assault.

When the cops bust up a party the girls are at and they find themselves in the lock-up – in their bikinis, the way they're dressed for most of the movie – they're unexpectedly bailed out by Alien (James Franco).

Franco seems to be having a blast as the gun- and dope-running rapper and wigger Alien. The role isn't entirely successful – the bedroom scene of him repeating 'look at all my shit' over and over gets a bit silly – but he gives it everything he has.

Alien is a slimy, predatory presence as he takes the girls under his wing. Straight-laced Faith is the first to realise it can only end badly and leaves for home, leaving her three friends to be gradually seduced into Alien's life of parties and crime.

It spirals downhill quickly – with Cotty getting shot in a drive-by with a rival Alien's in the midst of a turf war with – and goes mental from there. What started as a story about four average, fun-loving young women trying to get away for a holiday ends with the final two of them – Brit and Candy – storming a gangster's stronghold in bikinis and balaclavas, guns in hand, blowing away henchmen like spies infiltrating the top secret lair of a Bond villain.

The rapid descent into such insane and shocking violence seems ridiculous considering where it all started, but in a sense it's perfect for the film. Writer/director Harmony Korine plays with the order of scenes and sequences, the focus of the picture, the colours and the light to such an extent it's like the onset of a fever dream that turns into a nightmare.

Despite the action and violence, many scenes are also languid and sensual, the girls all draped across each other, playing with each others' hair like water nymphs in some Greek myth. It's highly sexualised because of what they're constantly wearing and doing (and the camera caresses the half-dressed forms of all four girls like a creepy lover), but the tone is just as much one of tactile sensuality, a quality I always really like when it's done well.

The plot isn't anything too complicated and doesn't need to be because this is a story made for the medium, where the visuals are just as important. If you like the idea of an R rated Terrence Malick crime drama starring Disney princesses, you've come to the right place.

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