Science fiction and fantasy

Spontaneous cover

The Secret Eater


directed by Brian Duffield

The premise of Spontaneous is quite random. At high school, a popular girl explodes in class, in front of the main character Mara (Katherine Langford), spraying the whole class with blood and gore and traumatising everyone. Nobody has any idea why it happened. And then, it keeps happening to senior students, apparently at random.

Mara is the kind of young person who likes to make her presence felt and her views known, and she's immediately likeable. Her reaction to the first death was to lose herself in magic mushrooms. Her best friend Tess (Hayley Law) is more level-headed and laid back. And we meet Dylan (Charlie Plummer), a charming young man who tells Mara he has a crush on her, and because people are blowing up and he doesn't know whether he'll be next he is less afraid to say what he really feels.

Dylan is a movie fan, referring often to his favourites. That's all the excuse the director needed to make a spot-the-reference game, peppering the story with verbal and visual Easter eggs for well-known movies.

The way the adults deal, or fail to deal, with the explosions is part of the humour. They try to keep the pupils isolated, hoping to make a pill to cure the problem. With lots of confused, scared teenagers frequently running around in a panic, there is the potential to see this as a metaphor for school shootings. But if it is meant that way, it's not heavy-handed or obvious.

As the deaths increase, Mara and others turn to drink and drugs to cope with the trauma. It seems as if Mara is at the centre of the deaths, so there's a question about whether she is somehow responsible, or if it's all a coincidence. And is she going on a self-destructive spiral that can only end terribly? I kept looking for clues about this in the story, because the deaths seem like a mystery that needs to be solved in order to prevent more chaos.

However, in the midst of quite a lot of splattery gore and tragedy, Spontaneous is definitely a comedy, albeit a very black one. Part of this comes through in the dry humour of characters such as the no-nonsense FBI investigator Agent Rosetti (Yvonne Orji), through Mara's laid-back parents, and in the antics of her school friends.

This film is surprisingly deep, something unexpected after its cheerfully blood-soaked opening scenes. It touches on themes of survivor guilt, fear of dying, and the need to live well in the present rather than putting everything off until a tomorrow that may never come. The payoff at the end wasn't anything like I had imagined it would be. This isn't a huge high-budget visual spectacular, but it is well-written with likeable, smart characters that don't fit into the tired and stereotypical teenage cliques that high school movies often default to, which was refreshing.

23rd July 2022

3 star rating

Review ©

Source: Netflix streaming

Film Details

Year of release: 2020

Categories: Films

Classification: 15

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