In Spontaneous (2020), we follow high-school student Mara Carlyle (Katherine Langford) and her fellow classmates struggle to cope as everyone in their third period class begins to spontaneously combust. Soon after, she falls for Dylan (Charlie Plummer) and the two must combat this crazy new world, where your life could end in the blink of an eye, while also pursuing a relationship with each other.
Based on a YA novel of the same name by Aaron Starmer and filmed in 2016, Spontaneous is the directorial debut of screenwriter Brian Duffield, whose previous credits include The Babysitter (2016), the much maligned Jane’s Got a Gun (2014) - in which the original director Lynne Ramsay literally walked off the set forcing star and producer Natalie Portman to quickly find a replacement - and the recently-released Kristen Stewart horror vehicle Underwater (2020). Here Duffield manages to flex his skills as both director and writer. Duffield fleshes out the characters, carving them into three-dimensional people as opposed to your standard high-school archetypes. In addition, Duffield makes the film extremely heartfelt and profound, centering around themes of morality and living everyday like it is your last. This is especially true for Langford's Mara and the other characters as they reckon with living in a world where their normal life has been cut off. This is also true for the audience as a lot of what the characters go through is relatable and understandable, especially in 2020, as any sense of ordinary life like parties, bars, movie theaters, libraries, etc. have been stripped away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duffield works with cinematographer Aaron Morton (Evil Dead, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch ), in bringing a cold, blue-ish setting to the film setting of Covington, New Jersey. Along with special effects supervisor Darren Marcoux, Duffield elects to use practical effects when it comes to the exploding heads, giving the film a sense of realism. This is replicated through the use of make-up thanks in part to Make-Up Artist Brendan Mainusch. A prime example of this is anytime one of the students’ heads explodes. As for the score, Joseph Trapansese (Oblivion, Straight Outta Compton) provides a techno-like sound to the proceedings. The film also uses a variety of songs, including Fourth of July by artist Sufjan Stevens during a very pivotal montage.
However, a large part of the film’s success comes down to the amazing cast on-screen. The cast, along with Langford as Mara, includes Charlie Plummer (Hulu’s Looking for Alaska) as Mara’s boyfriend Dylan, Hayley Law (Riverdale) as Mara’s best friend Tess, Rob Huebel (Children’s Hospital) as Mara’s father Charlie, and Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs) as Mara’s mother Angela. All provide great performances. Langford and Plummer provide great chemistry as a couple you want to see make it out of this movie alive. Meanwhile, Law keeps up with Langford’s eccentrics by being a voice of reason. As for Huebel and Perabo, Huebel plays against type as a sensitive, but caring father in Charlie, while Perabo does the opposite, being a silent stoic figure in Angela.
Despite being made four years ago, Spontaneous is a very relevant coming-of-age film due to its heavy themes of morality. Duffield, along with his cast and crew, brought to life a story about taking a chance on love in the face of armageddon. Definitely one of the year's best surprises, highly recommend you check it out.
Score: 4 out of 5