The Daily Stream: Spontaneous Is The Explosive Emotional Release Your Heart Needs

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Spontaneous"

Where You Can Stream It: Paramount+

The Pitch: The directorial debut of screenwriter Brian Duffield ("Underwater," "The Babysitter," "Love & Monsters"), "Spontaneous" is about a high-school student named Mara (Katherine Langford of "Knives Out" and "13 Reasons Why") navigating the difficult realities of teenage existence when suddenly her classmates begin inexplicably spontaneously combusting in the middle of class. The entire community is horrified by these continued tragedies, but no one seems to know what to do or why these kids keep exploding. Knowing that any moment could be her last, Mara begins living life as she sees fit, which includes starting a romance with the adorable Dylan (Charlie Plummer of "The Clovehitch Killer" and "Words on Bathroom Walls") as they try to figure out what to live for in a reality where living isn't a safe bet to make. As the couple's romance blossoms, Mara and her best friend Tess (Hayley Law of "Riverdale" fame) do their best to make life seem as normal as possible despite the circumstances, but then students begin exploding again and again, forcing the government to step in and quarantine the senior class, treat them like guinea pigs for a preventative drug treatment, and ruin whatever semblance of normalcy once remained.

Why It's Essential Viewing

Based on Aaron Starmer's 2016 book of the same name, "Spontaneous" feels like the first film to truly capture the unprecedented realities of American high school students living in a post-Columbine, post-Virginia Tech, post-Aurora, post-Sandy Hook, post-Pulse, post-Parkland, post-Santa Fe, post-Dayton, post-too-many-others-to-count world. Teens today have been doing school shooter drills since before they learned their multiplication tables, and their sardonic and nihilistic humor is a direct reflection of that existence. "Spontaneous" is unafraid to look at this harsh reality, and let out a giant yell of "WHAT THE F**K?!" in the middle of a laughing fit. It is bananas-ass ridiculous that teenagers being relegated to sacks of blood in the middle of classrooms has become a normalized part of existence. It's messed up. It's very much not normal, and "Spontaneous" screams it from the rafters.

Films centered on school-shootings are depressing at best and triggering at worst, but "Spontaneous" utilizing the metaphor of self-combustion allows a safe distance to navigate the anxieties around dying inside of a school and covering teenagers in blood against hallway lockers. The film is obviously relevant due to the rampant epidemic of school shootings, but what the film could not have predicted, however, was the relevance of the way the teens are treated in the film against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yeah, it's a movie about exploding teens, but it's also about a mysterious illness causing sudden death and forcing a quarantine situation. This film dropping in 2020 just adds to its impact.

An Explosive Love Story

The premise of "Spontaneous" rules, obviously, but the film would be nothing without the palpable chemistry between Langford and Plummer as two teens falling in love in the middle of what feels like the end of the world. Langford's Mara is the effortlessly cool girl in school with niche interests and a biting wit and Plummer's Dylan is her kind-hearted, nerdy match. After the teens are sent to quarantine, Mara and Dylan lay in plastic separated rooms, hooked to machines, and surrounded by workers in head-to-toe hazmat suits. The two reach their hands out, only able to press their index fingers toward the plastic, and scream back and forth "E.T." and "Elliott," in a moment that is so macabrely beautiful you can't help but fall in love with them.

Everything about their love story feels reel, and not in an unrealistic melodramatic fashion the way most teen movie romances are presented. You genuinely want Mara and Dylan to make it, but the lingering knowledge that any scene could be the one where they explode is brutal. This movie tackles incredibly bleak themes, but the throughline of brilliant comedy writing and the love of Mara and Dylan keep you going, and offer the release that there's always something positive to be found in even the worst possible circumstances. It's downright criminal that this was dumped unceremoniously on streaming services, because it was genuinely my favorite film release of 2020. Mara is such a dynamic lead character, and the exploration of her survivor's guilt as her classmates die around her is unlike anything ever portrayed on screen before.

It's Okay Not to Be Okay

Sometimes it's really, really hard to be a person in the world right now. Every day feels like waking up to a new nightmare of conflict, bigotry, systemic oppression, tragedy, and unthinkable pain, and that's just one swipe of a Twitter feed. So many terrible things in the world have become so commonplace that many don't even register in "the top 10 worst things about today." Hell, there's so much devastation occurring at any given moment, it's hard to even keep up. Life is overwhelming, it's scary, and somehow we're all expected to keep moving forward like everything is normal and figure out what to do with our fears and anxieties on our own time.

"Spontaneous" gives a chipped-nail polish manicured middle finger to that way of thinking and serves as a reminder that it's okay not to be okay. You're allowed to be angry, you're allowed to be scared, you're allowed to be sad, and you're allowed to laugh if that's what it takes to get through it.