FILM REVIEW: SPONTANEOUS is one of the year’s best genre mashups with engaging performances, clever writing, and compelling characters.


Writer Brian Duffield (Underwater, The Babysitter) makes his feature directing debut in this well-acted timely ensemble genre piece with echoes of Heathers and Donnie Darko.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been an off-year for all of us, not just in the United States, but around the world. We’ve been separated from our everyday lives and routine and physically separated from our friends and those we love for what seems to be an eternity. The world feels alienating and many of us feel as if we are in a plastic bubble separated from those we care about, not knowing when things will be back to normal. The quest for normalcy and the desire for an everyday existence with a guaranteed tomorrow is a prevalent theme in writer/director Brian Duffield’s directorial debut Spontaneous, hitting VOD on October 6th. Spontaneous, based on a young adult novel by Aaron Starmer, follows Mara Carlyle (Katherine Langford), a 17-year-old girl, who attends Covington High with her best friend Tess (Hayley Law). One day, Mara is zoned out in class when her classmate Katelyn (Mellany Barros) spontaneously combusts out of the blue. The incident shakes up their world, but it also inspires Dylan (Charlie Plummer), a classmate of Mara’s who has long held a crush on her, to let her know his feelings because they might not have a tomorrow if it happens to one of them. The two strike up a fast friendship and a quirky courtship based on their mutual love of horror movies, 80s pop culture, and gallows humor arises. But while the two start to fall for each other and form an us against the world bond, their fellow classmates keep exploding and one starts to wonder if they have forever together or just the day they’re living now.

Even though Spontaneous was shot pre-COVID-19, it feels very timely and that’s one of the main reasons the movie really works. Mara, Tess, and Dylan are stuck in this ennui whereas Tess says she just wants to start her life. The kids at the high school are quarantined by a clueless CDC who toss out empty buzzwords even as the kids can see the government has no real idea how to help them. Mara bemoans the election of Trump as President and wears a funeral dress to school the day after the 2016 election, even though she gets suspended for doing so. But more importantly, it captures a moment in time in most teens’ life where their hormones are raging and you don’t know what could happen. Here, it’s taken literally in a polarized atmosphere. One where even protestors are driven to picket what could mysteriously be causing them to explode.

Writer/director Brian Duffield wrote the McG directed Netflix film The Babysitter, which expertly danced the line between comedy and horror, filled with whip-smart dialogue born out of nontraditional sources of humor in film. Spontaneous is very similar in this regard. Ron Huebel and Piper Perabo play Mara’s parents and they have frank discussions with their daughter about her life and smoke weed and drink in front of her which leads to a lot of great conversations. Likewise, the best part of the film is borne from the conversational dialogue between Mara and Dylan. You’re rooting for these kids the whole film, even though you know it likely won’t end well for them. There are shades of Harold and Maude, Heathers, Benny and Joon, and Donnie Darko in their relationship. Dylan’s pure zest for life which counters Mara’s shield of sarcasm and self-deprecating humor as the two open up during their courtship. The kids are written intelligently, as are the adults, including an FBI agent played by Insecure’s Yvonne Orji.

Most importantly, this is a well-done genre mashup. While it strongly plays with fun rom-com humor meets sci-fi concept like Palm Springs did earlier this year, Spontaneous also deals with grief, longing and guilt in the way that a film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would. There’s some dark territory explored, but you don’t feel cheatended out of the lightness the film starts with. The evolution is natural and the choices that the characters make are human ones.

Overall, Spontaneous is one of the bright lights of VOD fare set to release this month. With great casting and a great premise, Spontaneous hooks you and delivers a shot to the funny bone and the heart. It’s easily one of the year’s best genre comedy films and definitely worth your time.

– 5 of 5 stars