A Review by Megan Bosarge
If people around you suddenly started blowing up, you might find yourself wondering if each moment was your last. This is the strange and morbid reality of Spontaneous, directed by Brian Duffield.
Mara (Katherine Langford), a quirky teenager who marches to the beat of her own sarcastic drum, doesn’t expect to need an umbrella in her high school Science class, but when the girl sitting in front of her suddenly “pops”, Mara and the other blood soaked students flee the room, both stunned and mortified. After a few hours at the police station to sort out what happened, the students mourn their friend and wrestle with how to move on with their young lives.
Nobody thinks much of the startling event until Mara suggests that it could happen again.
And it does happen again. And again. And… well, you get the idea. The students of Covington High School grow tense living with the fear of who might be next. Soon, Mara meets Dylan (Charlie Plummer), an awkward boy who confesses his two-year long crush to Mara in an attempt to make the most of what little time he might have left. An unexpected romance forms as they, along with their classmates, are quarantined for a series of tests as scientists try to identify what is causing this bloody epidemic. When it becomes clear that no solution exists–the students are doomed to explode, one by one–it’s up to Mara and Dylan to live each moment like it’s their last. You know, just in case it is.
What’s the meaning behind the blood-spattered quandary that is Spontaneous? Well, for starters, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a gruesome epidemic among high school students. With the rise of mass shootings in the last decade, medical professionals have classified gun violence as a public health crisis. And yet these events, much like the deaths portrayed in the film, are regarded as tragic, sudden, and unexpected. The media fires up, the public outrages and all too soon everyone moves on to the next thing. The irony here is in the very word “spontaneous”. The exploding deaths of the children and the cavalier way the community merely goes on with life reflects the American society’s unwillingness to admit the control they really have over the gun violence situation. Rather than regard it as a fixable problem, we hold vigils, we pray, we pause the regularly scheduled programming to cover the breaking news, but soon we resume doing what we always do: nothing.
At one point in the film, the children are rapidly exploding, one after the other, a cascade of blood painting the halls of Covington High. Students frantically run for the exit, the popping sounds of their friends echoing behind them, as if they could somehow outrun their arbitrary fate. The moment is morbidly familiar. A scene we know all too well. A scene we’ve only shuddered to imagine when we picture the unfolding of a high school shooting our loved ones attend. But the difference is that in the film, the children suffer from some incurable affliction, while we as a society refuse to remedy a very fixable problem.
In the end, Mara accepts that life is unpredictable. It can be beautiful and it can be cruel and unfair. There really is no controlling it. All we can do is live life to the fullest. While this is a profound and positive takeaway, I struggle to apply the same rationale to gun laws. Cancer is arbitrary. Car accidents happen. At any point we could find ourselves caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, but couldn’t we do a far better job mitigating these “spontaneous” mass shootings? Do our children really deserve to go to school wondering if they’ll be the next one to pop?
If Mara could have removed the cause of her friend’s deaths, she would have. It’s a wonder we can’t seem to do the same.