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First Look Review - SPONTANEOUS

spontaneous review
As their classmates succumb to an epidemic of spontaneous combustion, two teens fall for one another.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brian Duffield

Starring: Katherine Langford, Charlie Plummer, Piper Perabo, Yvonne Orji, Hayley Law, Rob Huebel

spontaneous poster






Since the world began to react to COVID-19, several movies have been released that have made us wonder if their filmmakers possessed a crystal ball when they sat down to write their scripts. First out of the gates was Sea Fever, released within a couple of weeks of the initial lockdown and hitting a nerve with its tale of a parasite moving between the crew of an expeditionary vessel. Then came She Dies Tomorrow, whose characters succumbed one by one to an epidemic that made them believe their mortality was set to expire within 24 hours. Even Christopher Nolan seemed to know something, as the key image of what should have been 2020's biggest movie, Tenet, was that of a man wearing a respiratory mask.

spontaneous review


None of the above feel quite as eerily prescient as director Brian Duffield's adaptation of novelist Aaron Starmer's Spontaneous, in which the kids of a high school class find themselves at the centre of an unexplained epidemic of spontaneous combustion. Not the traditional kind of spontaneous combustion where you explode in flames mind; rather these kids simply pop like a zit, or a melon in one of those impossibly effective blenders they sell on late night TV. As one pupil insensitively puts it, "It's like something from a Cronenberg movie!"

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As is so often the case with the modern high school movie, our heroine is a snarky teen who believes she's smarter than everyone else, and maybe she is. Mara (Katherine Langford) introduces herself by mocking her first classmate to explode, describing her as essentially a dullard who won't be missed. Charming.

spontaneous review


If you think this is a tale of a narcissistic teen realising the world doesn't revolve around herself, ala The Edge of Seventeen, you're wrong. Spontaneous seems to be in love with its self-centred heroine, but I struggled to embrace Mara. That's not to say I didn't believe in her, as I know I was a narcissistic little shit myself at that age, but I wouldn't want to watch a movie about my teen years either. The breaking point comes when scientists search frantically for a cure and Mara dismisses their efforts as a waste of time. She's a girl with no answers who likes to mock other people's questions. Mara spends a lot of time mocking Trump, but her own attitude isn't too far from one of his supporters.

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Mara gets an undeserved love interest in the form of the adorably dorky Dylan (Charlie Plummer), who figures that since he might explode any day now, he should confess his long suppressed feelings for Mara. Langford and Plummer have a great rapport, which makes up for a script clearly written by adults who have forgotten how teenagers speak.

spontaneous review


Unwittingly, Spontaneous has tapped into the existential dread teens are feeling at this specific moment of history. There's a lot of talk in the film of making it to graduation, as though that will somehow end the epidemic, and it echoes the sense of pointlessness those teens who have recently returned to school must be experiencing right now, the feeling that school has become a distraction from the present rather than preparation for the future. I wish this were a better movie, and I wish it had something more interesting to say than "shit happens!", because Duffield has accidentally stumbled upon an allegory that will resonate with its young audience in a way he probably never imagined.

Spontaneous is in US cinemas now and US VOD October 6th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




2020 movie reviews