Nice Monsters and Scary Sprites

By Mira Mattar, 28 May 2013
Image: Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens & Ashley Benson in Spring Breakers


Harmony Korine's recent film Spring Breakers doesn't exactly reward stringent sociological critique. His use of manipulative, mnemonic, stylised and hyper-seductive techniques demands to be taken seriously in a different way. But how? Mira Mattar meets him at the threshold


‘Spring break forever’: a stock phrase repeated into the air, in between gunshots, into the night, throughout the film. Perfect tanned young white bodies bouncing, thrusting, grinding in unison; a neon horde heaving together forever. A hot pink Instagram-ready entity dancing in the eternal sun-kissed ecstatic irreality, surreality of spring break. Crotch grabbing boys imitating imitations, reflecting reflections in imitation Ray Bans, x-rated B-movie beach movie. We’ve seen incarnations of this carnage incarnate before – MTV’s Spring Break, Girls Gone Wild, Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night etc. Everywhere bared breasts shaking in spontaneous, romantic harmony with Skrillex, deflecting constantly cascading Bud foam beads. Ice lollies extending like middle fingers in banal defiance, being sucked on by perfect tanned young white bodies. Flesh rippling in waves, repeating its own patterns with each shake of each booty. Spring break forever. ‘If we could just freeze... like... if we could just click it and freeze it and say: this is the way it’s gonna be forever.’ This mirage, this fantasy, this dream flashes chorus-like throughout the film – chorus from a pop song, chorus from a Greek epic – hooking and reminding. A place where the sun never sets, where there is no darkness.


Somewhere else – neither before nor after, not on this post-continuous plane – TV light pulses on skin and the only breath is bong-watered-down.1 Laptop lit nowhere, a girl mimes giving head, oh for the real thing, a heart drawn round a desire, spring break bitch scrawled on a cartoon cock. Now again another mime, Candy’s blowing her brains out in the electrical glow, bored out of her mind again. Atonal professorial murmurings about the civil rights movement throb and recede, irrelevant to the historyless, to those just sprung fresh as new ice cream flavours, with ice cream flavour names to match: Brit, Candy, Cotty, three little devils, trash humpers unmasked.


Faith meanwhile (or erstwhile who knows) faithless and tempted, neon lit, too faithless to clap along or sing along she mimes, too tempted to say yes, she is ‘jacked up on Jesus’. Breath saved for smoke plumes, for dismissing warnings and harbingers, ‘those girls’ve got demon blood in them’.


Disney princess starlets teetering from good girls to bad, a necessary transition for girl, for actress, for girl-actress – cipher, model, role-model.


Daniel Schweiger: As young actresses with managers and images to protect, how much fun did you have diving into the crazy world of Spring Breakers?


Selena Gomez: So much fun.


Vanessa Hudgens: We had the most amazing time. I mean this was just such a freeing and liberating experience as people and as actors. Harmony gave us the room to play and we got to do that every single day.2


Inducing the dream in a micro-scene – the sleepover fantasy wank-fodder of an infinity of boys – white pantied girls blow smoke back and forth between lungs, lips almost touching, breath looping between them, sound rasping over film.3 Pot intimacy, pop intimacy brought forth through Nelly’s magic words, ‘It’s getting hot in here so I’m gonna take my clothes off’, a prediction, the future tense, a willing, a bringing forth. A ritual pushing against, against containment, against narrowness, standing on hands not feet, pressing the walls away. Part playground girlishness and nonsense rhymes, part incantation and spell casting – Britney, Circe what’s the difference?


One site of popular culture where girls are seen together and get to be heard is Pop Music. From the close harmony black girl groups of doo-wop and soul, to the all girl punk and rock bands [...] pop music has traditionally offered a niche for the expression of youthful female solidarity.

– Bev Zalcock in Renegade Sisters: Girl Gangs on Film


They know the words which aren’t their own, they know the moves as well, they recognise the references and know each other through them. Pop music/nursery rhyme, music video/playground game, video game/actual reality. ‘Just pretend it’s a fucking video game’, enter the state of play, press to continue. ‘Just pretend it’s a movie’, the roles are ready and waiting, you’re already method acting. Neon light, strip light, spot light. Oh for sunlight! For heat on the skin. Repeat: ‘Don’t be scared of nothing’. Double negative as true positive. Repeat: ‘You can’t be scared of shit’, or you’ll be shit scared. Say it, repeat it, become it, believe it, will it, a spell, an act, an act of will. To eliminate the gaps between thought/action/fantasy/reality, the oldest want. To become a state of play, of mind. To slip mobile as liquid, sprightly, sprite-ly. Just pretend, just pretend.


Image:  Henry Levin's, Where The Boys Are, 1960


Make believe, incant, invoke, repeat, perform, channel, pretend, pretend complete with costume: blue hoodies, denim short shorts, DTF joggers, pink and black balaclavas, flip flops, plimsols, nail polish, unicorns, dolphins, rainbows, Skittle lit, all things nice. Costume makes the girls a gang – Korine loves a gang and Tura would be proud. 4


All you need to make a movie is a girl and a [squirt] gun.

Jean Luc Godard (ish)


Chicken shack window framed and framed again from the car window, a video game, a movie on mute, a camera shot, a gun shot. Blue hoodied bodies barely able to contain elated screams are screamed out of, shock of power, power coursing through their bodies replacing blood, replacing fear. Witches watching a burning-car pyre, girl gang burning the evidence. ‘We have become what we wish we were’ says the Pope in Mr Lonely.


And ‘seeing all this money makes my pussy wet’, ‘it makes my tits look bigger!’ Money transforms, reforms, mobilises their bodies, makes miracles, makes dreams... oh to be close to it: they rub and gorge and lick and smell, they offer it to each other, they are both servant and goddess. ‘Smell it!’. A relation so different to those other money covered girls, the black strippers of St. Pete’s... Instead, ascension into America’s girl gang screen sirens, ‘The point is of no return and you've reached it!’ squalls Varla in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Tearing up the streets on matching mopeds, part Heathers, part She Devils on Wheels, part Where the Boys Are.


In 1960 MGM decided to capitalize on this annual Florida pilgrimage with Where The Boys Are, the story of four female students (played by Connie Francis, Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux, and Dolores Hart) who head south during spring break to meet boys and have fun. Some do, some don’t, and Connie Francis sings a few tunes.

– Jim Morton, ‘Beach Party Films’, Incredibly Strange Films


Some do, some don’t... the dream dissipates under its own boredom, under the shame of arrest, the reality of locals unsavoury to Faith, her face tiny in Alien’s hand, ‘this is supposed to be where we find ourselves, where we find out who we are, this isn’t the dream, it can’t end this way’. Deviation from her perceived spiritual path, the dream punctured like Cotty’s arm, shot for shot they go home alone, finally clothed, hand yearning at the window, barriers resurrected but with the added pain of having known. The comedown of home time.


Image: Vanessa Hudgens as Candy and Ashley Benson as Brit in Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers


Why should the little chickies return to the neon bacchanal, the diluted tourist mass, when its eternal essence is offered distilled in ‘a bouquet’ of money from a man made of money? ‘I’m fucking made of money, look at my fucking teeth! They should call me Money!’ Alien, rags to riches southern beau, trap rapped, corn-rowed Flannery O’Connor-esque deviant, woos the girls in his southern drawl through his money mouth. That smell again, the green scent of the American dream, of the self made self by just adding cash.


Part Jay Gatsby, part MTV Cribs, Franco (part actor, part performance artist) as Alien flings his shorts, he introduces his objects, ‘look at all my shit’, the glee of abundance, a scree of stuff, the dream you can touch. Juvenile boasts about his YouTube rap career, jumping up and down on the bed like a little boy. His collection of baseball caps, guns, shorts – ownership of the dream necessitates not only having everything but having more than one of everything, nearly identical, tiny variations, by the end we can barely tell Brit and Candy apart. Shrill and giggling at his feet, irritating now, why aren’t they standing on their hands anymore? Why this stomach knot? The threat of a predictable narrative, the punishment for wearing so little, for being so young, mean and pretty. But sirens lured sailors to shipwreck remember, their voices singing or giggling pose a distraction, and soon they shift from beneath and it is Alien on his knees being penetrated doubly as he earlier half threatened half teased his Die Antwoord-esque ATL twins would do to them. But he gives back, he switches into their game, he mimes, he plays because he must, because what’s the difference? He blows the loaded guns, he learns his place, he falls in love. Brit and Candy act as one, like BFFs often do, without speaking – the bond of ‘pure pop psychopaths’. Of jinx! Of snap! Of the constant fever of Dracula’s weird sisters, of young vampires who will be forever young.


Bill Compton: When a vampire is as new as Jessica is, she has no humanity. She is in the grips of an overwhelming transformation, there will be times when she cannot control even a single impulse...and believe me she 'has' many.


Sookie Stackhouse: How is that any different from being a teenage girl? No humanity, check. In the grips of overwhelming transformations, check. Cannot control impulses, check. Alright, is that different?

True Blood, ‘Keep This Party Going’, Season 2, Episode 2


Alien can’t quite believe they’re real, these water nymphs, these witches, ‘like mermaids come up from the sea’. Like Faith he wants to freeze time – click: an imagined photograph, he is stuck in a dream. The fear is all his, they are inoculated. The need is all his, he with so much to lose. ‘Every time I see you in my dreams, I see your face, you’re haunting me, I guess I need you baby’. His ballad to the girls, K Fed needs his Britney, ‘the music of Ms Spears is evoked in an unironic, and surprisingly touching, celebration of the pop influence in the lives of the Millennial generation’.5


Image: James Franco as Alien in Spring Breakers


Mutual transformation, parallel transgression, ‘make it make it don’t fake it’, the Trash Humpers mantra works here too. Fear makes a faker. They playground taunt him when they smell his fear, they bully, ‘Are you scared? You’re scared aren’t you? Scaredey cat’. Played over and over, shot over shot, an angle, another, stereoscopic riling. Scarface on loop, over and over, Scarface standing against the dream image of a sunset and palm trees, the image of all dreams, sunset and palm trees, felled by his own greed, ‘the guys who want it all, chicas, champagne, flash... they don’t last’. An old story, a tragic flaw, a punchline. Alien as poseur, as wannabe – but less because he is or isn’t appropriating black culture – and more because he is scared.


Now gangsta-ass niggas come in all shapes and colours...

But real gangsta-ass niggas don't flex nuts

Cuz real gangsta-ass niggas know they got em
And everything’s cool in the mind of a gangsta
Cuz gangsta-ass niggas think deep

– ‘Damn it feels good to be a gangsta’, Geto Boys


Brit and Candy, cool of mind, smooth, lithe and swift in plimsols, embracing their perverse practicality, no heeled tottering, all the better to kill you with. Attempting revenge, Alien’s game is quickly over, a moment of poetry as his shirt ripples in the breeze across his dead body – waves, breath, dreams. Brit and Candy storm the neon rose jetty, bikini strings glowing otherworldly in the dark, guiding lights. Agents of destruction, colour blind, without history, without fear, out to blow brains out again and again. Squirt guns become Colts, white bodies fell black ones. The world they have crossed into is the world they can cross out of. Without punishment, without revelation – no cautionary tale. They complete the game because it must be completed, the game is a state.


Mira Mattar <miramattar AT> <> is
a sometime governess, freelance writer, editorial assistant at Mute
and contributing editor to 3:AM. She blogs at



1 Steven Shaviro’s notion of post-continuity wherein ‘a preoccupation with immediate effects trumps any concern for broader continuity—whether on the immediate shot-by-shot level, or on that of the overall narrative’. Quoted in Jason LaRivière’s ‘Morally Pink Complexion’


3 ‘There was something, more in the air really, that I was feeling, it goes into this idea of liquid narrative, of playing with time and micro-scene and this idea of loop-based, sample-based film making.’ Harmony Korine in an interview with Dazed Digital

4 ‘I told them I want the movie to look like you just lit it with Skittles’ Harmony Korine interview at Vice,

5 Jason LaRivière, ‘Morally Pink Complexion’