By Laura Hertzfeld
March 11, 2013 at 09:31 PM EDT
Earl Gibson III/WireImage
  • Movie

Today’s SXSW panel featuring Spring Breakers‘ cast and director Harmony Korine started innocently enough… moderator Eric Kohn from IndieWire asked audience members to share their favorite Spring Break memories — most of which landed on the milder side, including one 17-year-old’s tale of rubbing elbows with celebs like Joseph Gordon-Levitt last night in Austin and one guy’s recollection of sleeping in Cancun hotel’s bag-check area.

But those tales pale in comparison to the dark places Korine went while researching his Sunshine State-set flick, which made its U.S. debut in Austin on Sunday.

Spring Breakers focuses on four young women who rob a fast food restaurant to pay for their trip. During their grand misadventure, they encounter a cornrow-sporting pimp, played by James Franco, whose character was inspired by rap artists Dangeruss and Riff Raff.

Naturally, Disney breakouts Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, along with ABC Family ingenue Ashley Benson, have been the focal point of much of the films’ coverage, as they are all breaking away from their sweetheart images. (The fourth Spring Breaker Rachel Korine is Harmony’s wife). “Right now is more of a transition period for me,” Gomez said. “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way for me to do that gracefully. [Harmony] believed in me, and I don’t think there’s a lot of directors who would take that chance on me.”

Another buzz builder since Breakers opened at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival: the film’s controversial content. “It is hyper-sexualized and hyper-violent. All the details: the bikinis and the book bags and the hello kitty are child-like, innocent,” said Korine, explaining that it was exactly this juxtaposition that made the school holiday set-up fascinating for him. “Both those things playing together, I thought was a metaphor for what happens later in the film.”

Unexpectedly, neither Korine nor any of the actors had been on a real Spring Break. To research the film, Korine collected images and video of Spring Break culture for a couple of years before making the film. The craziest thing he saw: “A human jawbone hanging from a chandelier in a Days Inn.” As for Benson, she explained that, during filming, “We were thrown into these hotel rooms with real spring breakers so those were our real reactions.”

Korine, who wrote 1995’s Kids and directed shock flicks Gummo and Trash Humpers, has made his name on chronicling underground communities. During the panel, he replayed his first short film, A Bundle A Minute — which he made as a high school sophomore in Nashville, Tenn. “I was a skateboarder in the ’80s. My parents are pretty weird and out there, I always had a lot of freedom. That [street life] was a world I was intrigued with,” he noted.

But Spring Breakers does have lighter moments. Case in point: the girls sing along to Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” in a bar. To prove they weren’t lip synching, the cast members indulged the audience. Check out the video below for a taste.

Spring Breakers opens in wide release Friday.

Read more:

SXSW: Five movies we can’t wait to see

James Franco is dread-full in new NSFW trailer for ‘Spring Breakers’ — VIDEO

Another ‘Spring Breakers’ trailer shows starlets gone wild — VIDEO

‘Spring Breakers’ soundtrack streaming online: Skrillex, Rick Ross, more

  • Movie
  • R
  • 92 minutes
Complete Coverage