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Why Spontaneous Will Hit Home For Audiences - Exclusive

Two words: exploding teenagers. On the surface, that's what the movie Spontaneous is about. But really, once you pull back the layers, it tackles so much more.

The directorial debut of screenwriter Brian Duffield (The Divergent Series: Insurgent, The Babysitter, Underwater), Spontaneous follows high school senior Mara, played by 13 Reasons Why breakout Katherine Langford, as she maneuvers through life and burgeoning love as her classmates spontaneously combust around her.

Based on the 2016 book of the same name by Aaron Starmer, the film has been described by Duffield as David Cronenberg, known for his gripping work in the body horror genre, meets John Hughes, whose films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink defined the teen coming-of-age comedy-drama. However, Spontaneous is also reminiscent of the 1989 cult-hit film Heathersand such Gus Van Sant features as To Die For and My Own Private Idaho.

From loss to love, Spontaneous explores the myriad emotions teenagers experience when coming of age. Not only does Mara deal with death, but she's also faced with the prospect of a new boyfriend in classmate Dylan (Charlie Plummer). However, Spontaneous isn't just for teens — it will also resonate with adults because of its political and social undercurrents.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Duffield delved into the not-so-hidden messages blended into Spontaneous, and explained why the film will hit home for audiences.

Spontaneous was made pre-pandemic, yet it feels so timely

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a strange, scary year. The COVID-19 global pandemic has dominated the headlines and hit the United States especially hard.

Enter Spontaneous, which has shades of "pandemic" written all over it. From the arbitrary nature in which classmates blow up to the government-imposed quarantine the kids are forced into, the movie has an unexpected relevance that sums up an unprecedented year in modern history. But that wasn't necessarily the intention of the film.

"Obviously we made it pre-pandemic, and there's part of me that really dislikes how on-the-nose it has become. I was watching TV and on came an animated commercial that's almost exactly like the one in our movie ... like, 'We know these are scary times,'" said Duffield. "I just put my head in my hands. It felt more like science fiction when we were making it. And now I see all these inaccuracies [in Spontaneous] about the CDC. Two years ago [when making this], I didn't know anything about the CDC, so I took liberties, because I was like, 'This isn't going to happen.'"

Still, the nature of the story hits home because there's this ominous, confusing, intangible event happening all around Mara that she can't control.

"It's like this thing that just randomly happens; there's no preamble — it's just this unexplainable, crazy thing," Duffield noted. "In the book, Aaron used spontaneous combustion as this device about how life can throw anything at you, and how you deal with it."

Duffield continued, sharing that everyone can relate to Spontaneous in their own way.

"When we were making the movie, it was like 'don't act like someone's spontaneously combusting,' because, emotionally, spontaneous combustion can represent someone having cancer or getting hit by a car. We wanted people to be able to project anything they've dealt with onto the combustion. It's this thing that's a catch-all for any crazy turn life takes that you weren't planning for and have to deal with," he explained. "I think 2020 has been the epitome of that, and dealing with things that were definitely not part of the plan. You get broken apart, pick yourself up, put the pieces back together, and keep on trucking."

Spontaneous strikes a political tone, even when it doesn't mean to

On top of the pandemic crisis the country has been facing, the political climate in the United States has been tense, to say the least, over the last few years. That's something Duffield intentionally tackled head-on in Spontaneous, even directly referencing President Donald Trump (who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 himself) in the movie.

"I'm very liberal, and for me, the movie feels like a very real thing that kids are dealing with right now," said Duffield. "I wanted to have a benchmark where I was saying, 'This is what I thought back in 2018-slash-2020.' I don't care that it dates the movie, because I like teen movies that are dated. The John Hughes movies are very dated, and that's what makes them great."

In Spontaneous, the government swoops into town to handle the combustion issue, quarantining the kids and trying to figure out a solution. Duffield sees this an analogy for what's been going on in the world since President Trump took office.

"When we shot the movie, there were these things happening in the world where it really felt like kids were being like, 'We need someone to help us,'" he explained. "And it was really falling on deaf ears. I think the allusions are pretty apparent, but for us, it was about having the kids be able to voice that concern. Like when [a government official in the movie offers] 'thoughts and prayers,' that doesn't actually help them in the moment. And the frustration they show just felt so a part of what kids are going through these days, whether it's climate change or whatever. They're like, 'We need an adult, why isn't someone being our adult?'"

While most of the social and political aspects of the film were intentional, some weren't. As Duffield shared with Looper, "It's something we talked about and thought about a lot but, again, the movie was wrapped and finished well before COVID-19, and now it feels different because the pandemic response has been so politicized. It feels like even things that we didn't necessarily mean to be political, people are instantly like, 'This is political.' That wasn't necessarily the intention of some scenes, but, yeah, other scenes are very blatantly political on purpose."

Overall, though, Spontaneous is a black comedy that will appeal to young and old, the young at heart, and everyone in between — no matter your political stance

Spontaneous is available for Premium Video on Demand and Digital purchase now.