Spontaneous starts off strong as a dark comedy and ends on a higher note of hope.
Spontaneous (2020) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on May 14, 2021
Rating 4.5 /5
Spontaneous is a great example of a film that starts with an interesting premise and then carries into a thematic home run. The idea alone makes for a decent horror movie. Teenagers of a senior high school class start to spontaneously combust. It happens inexplicably and without warning. One girl in class just explodes into a splash of blood and guts. Nobody can figure out just how it happened.
Both perplexed and apathetic to the situation is Mara Carlyle (Katherine Langford), an outcast teen who finds herself drifting through such a horrific incident. She thinks back to who the girl that exploded really was. She didn’t know her well and thus can’t feel much. What she does care about is her best friend Tess (Hayley Law) and her crush of the poetry-digging Dylan (Charlie Plummer). Mara has hung out with Tess since they were kids and both of them plan on one day becoming hookah-smoking grannies with age. Mara texts with Dylan who makes a bold move to go out with her when the explosion of a student rings some alarm bells about making the most of your time on Earth.
The explosion wasn’t random, as Mara points out early on. Soon, more students start exploding. The graduating class is soon quarantined while government scientists struggle to find a chemical reason for why these teens just keep turning into big splats of red. A cure may lie in a pill but the pill doesn’t seem to work. Well, kinda. They still seem to be working out the kinks of just what makes this mystery possible. Thankfully, the film never finds a reason for these gory incidents because that would rob the film of its greater allegorical appeal.
The allegory may appear at first glance to be in relation to school shootings. This seems most apparent with the frequency of which it occurs, the constant closure of the school, and the government offering “thoughts and prayers” for the situation. However, as the film goes on and Mara grows more depressed and nihilistic, the situation becomes more than that. With no clear answers, Mara finds that life seems to be just random like that. You can try to push back on preventing death but the problem is there’s only so much you can do.
For essentially being a film about grief and existential dread, the movie is surprisingly hilarious in its own cathartic way. The explosions become so frequent that it’s a darkly comedic situation for how unpredictable every moment can be for teens who feel their demise may be a few hours or days away. Just when they think the situation is under control, another round of bloody explosions occurs, drowning the school in a bath of former students.
But aside from the grotesque, there’s some genuine chemistry and comedy that comes from Mara. Langford plays up the quirk in her character with a biting and infectious degree. Her conversations with Dylan feel sincere and sweet where their romance feels more genuine than desperate within the situation. Their romance is built up so well with much charm that you really do feel like rooting for them not to end up as slushy slop. Equally as enduring is her relationship to Tess which wanes and wavers both with the deadly situation and the coming of Dylan into their lives.
Spontaneous starts off strong as a dark comedy and ends on a higher note of hope. By the end of the film, Mara doesn’t find any definitive proof of what causes the combustion. But she continues on with a big, fat middle-finger for a fearful world. She speaks provocatively and with fury about growing up to become a success, maybe even President. Whether it happens or not is uncertain. It doesn’t matter. She’s going to try for it and that’s perhaps the most inspirational punctuation I’ve seen of any modern teen movie.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.