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Something is seriously wrong at Covington High School. Students are exploding. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

One second, you’re taking notes in world history, the next, your brains are splattered all over your best friend and your classmates are in a panic.

Mara (Katherine Langford) is a nervous wreck, and who can blame her? The only things she should be concerned about are getting a prom date and figuring out where she wants to go to college.

Instead, she spends her days on edge, wondering if one of her friends or her new crush may be the next to go “pop.”

“Spontaneous,” Brian Duffield’s adaptation of the novel by Aaron Starmer, is the most subversive piece of filmmaking of 2020, a movie that blindsides you with its intelligence as it sneaks its message of defiance into what appears to be a standard, albeit dark, teen comedy.

Funny, shocking and bold, this film ultimately reveals itself as a primal scream uttered on behalf of Generation Z in response to the horrific world they’ve inherited.

Duffield masterfully manipulates the viewer throughout, lulling us into a false sense of security after the initial shock of seeing poor Caitlin explode in science class.

After recovering from the initial shock, the film adapts the typical beats of a teen comedy.

Our heroine discusses her plans for the future with her best friend, Tess (Hayley Law), and tolerates her peers, who aren’t nearly as smart as her, yet amuse her all the same.

And much to her surprise, she winds up with a boyfriend. Having come to the conclusion that life is short after seeing one of his classmates blow up, Dylan (Charlie Plummer) tells Mara he’s been attracted to her for some time.

They decide to see where it leads, make plans for prom ... and then a few of their classmates explode at a party.

The chemistry between Langford and Plummer is seductive as we become so wrapped up in their charming love affair that we forget the darkly comic way in which the film began.

So when their peers begin to randomly die, it comes as a brutal shock, which is precisely the point.

The fact that we live in a world where when we send our kids to school, it may be the last time we see them because a madman may slaughter them is a perverse proposition.

That it is allowed to continue is obscene and immoral.

So it comes as no surprise that Mara loses direction as her friends die, that she gives up on her studies and begins to display self-destructive behavior.

It’s a logical response to the insanity that surrounds her. Yet what makes her a hero is that while she flirts with nihilism, she ultimately looks the world in the face and defiantly declares she will live life to the fullest anyway. She is uncowed in the face of annihilation, a symbol of rebellion this generation deserves.

“Spontaneous” provides Generation Z with a playbook on how to live in a mad world they never asked for with grace and purpose that puts us to shame.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). His email is

Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).