Subverting Expectations: Candy-Colours and Hyper-Reality in Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers opens with what it says on the tins: harems of Californian college students in luminous bikinis and knotted t-shirts party along the beach. Men pour beer into the open mouths of bare-breasted women who lie at their feet. Electro music pumps. Girls shake their gluteal folds in the camera’s face. Everything is brightly-coloured and spunky.

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Were these highly stylised visuals and hyper-reality which are so at home in mainstream cinema really the work of a controversial and avant-garde director like Korine? My only previous knowledge of Korine was his emotionally jarring Dogme-95 feature Julien Donkey-Boy, released in 1999. My preconceived expectations of Spring Breakers were based entirely on the minimal, distorted and disturbing effects seen in Julien Donkey-Boy, and as such were all smashed to pieces within the first five minutes.

Korine told his cinematographer he “wanted [Spring Breakers] to look like it was lit with candy. Like Skittles or Starburst. I wanted the tone to be pushed into a hyper-candy-textural, hyper-stylised reality” (The Guardian). The candy-coloured visuals are juxtaposed with sexualised bodies, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence. Korine certainly caused outrage – especially amongst parents – by displacing familiar PG-stars (Disney Channel’s Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) in his raucous, socially disgraceful R-rated landscape. That’s no doubt exactly what he wanted though.

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Admittedly, broken boundaries and twisted perception is all part of the appeal for an adult audience. However, these luminous bikini-clad girls suffer from a lack of characterisation and seem to be void of intellect – which is not to say they are portrayed as weak wallflowers at all. None of this is helped along by some terribly cringey dialogue and repetitive voiceovers that never make a point.

At the helm of their narrative is the silver-toothed gangster, Alien (James Franco), who gains their allegiance when he flashes his cash after bailing them out of jail. Under him, they reach a new level of peculiar sexualisation as the film progresses, faces covered by pink balaclavas and machine guns in their hands. Perhaps unintentionally, there are similarities between the film and the equivocal, overly-sexualised political feminist group Femen who protest topless, bodies’ graffitied with slogans, and their shady founder, Victor Svyatski. It’s confused, but in the mess it has something it wants to say.

Spring Breakers – Harmony Korine (USA, 2012)

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