Spontaneous (2020) Review

Spontaneous has an interesting premise with some impressive scenes, but its too underdeveloped to subvert expectations.

Spontaneous is a coming-of-age, black comedy film, written and directed by Brian Duffield, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film is based on Aaron Starmer’s 2016 YA novel of the same name.

The film centres around Mara Carlyle [Katherine Langford], a student at Covington High, where students in their senior year have begun to explode, or spontaneously combust as per the inspiration for the title. Mara must navigate this dire phenomenon with her best friend Tess [Hayley Law] and her new boyfriend Dylan [Charlie Plummer].

At its core, Spontaneous is a coming-of-age romcom, much to my dismay. I was reeled in by the promise of spontaneous combustion and conspiracies and was met with one of my least favourite movie genres – the dreaded romcom, which for me, is more disturbing than the combustion. To be fair, I should have been tipped off by the huge heart on the film poster.

Spontaneous (2020) dist, Paramount Pictures

The teens are all very cool, stylish, and antsy, especially Mara who always looks perfect. I couldn’t tell if her pristine appearance was an issue in continuity or some sort of social commentary, but I think it was probably the former.

For a film that seems to regard itself as anti-typical, it’s pretty formulaic. The dialogue between the main characters is really one of the most unbelievable aspects. Also, Mara and Dylan are self-proclaimed movie nerds, but it seems they have actually watched about seven films between them. It’s all very cringey stuff.

I surmise that all of the archetypal John Green, Stephen Chbosky stuff was meant to disarm the viewer, but I actually found myself quite bored for a lot of the film. This leads me to believe that I am just not within the intended audience for this film. It’s very angsty and the comedy wasn’t my cup of tea. But then again, why would I have any reason to relate to the characters? I’d be like Steve Buscemi in this scene.

Spontaneous (2020) dist, Paramount Pictures

All that aside, there were a few entertaining moments, and it has a rich subtext, albeit on the nose a lot of the time. It’s a million miles away from a film like Heathers (1989), and if you expect something in a similar vein, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, I would suggest going into this film with expectations of what it actually is – a teen romcom. There are a few impressive scenes, as well being quite stylistic, and as I said before, the thematic context of this film is important and timely.

For me, the idea of the premise outweighed the execution. If you’re going to make a film that deals with extreme and complex issues, why not make it more extreme and complex? The best horror comedies are the ones that strike the perfect balance, or they just become a watery version of neither one nor the other. Ultimately, it does feel underdeveloped for a black comedy, horror-fantasy film, but perhaps as a coming-of-age, romantic comedy it might tick all the boxes.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Final rating: 6/10

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