Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Spontaneous Movie Poster Image
Powerful, intense tragicomedy walks in Gen Z's shoes.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 97 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

You will get through high school, and life will get better. 

Positive Role Models

Friends and parents nurture one another's social emotional state as things spiral out of control. Mara and Dylan's romantic relationship escalates at her behest. Classmates represent diversity in sexual orientation and ethnicity.


Teens die throughout the movie by spontaneously combusting -- it's shocking, very bloody, and has the potential to be incredibly upsetting and anxiety inducing. Several mentions of wanting to be dead. 


Teens make out. Sexual jokes. A monogamous teen couple is shown in bed after sex, completely under the covers.


Extremely frequent use of very strong language, including "a--holes," "bitch," "d--k," "s--t," "slut," "whore," "what the hell," and frequent use of "f--k." Innuendo with last name "Cox." Middle-finger gesture. "Oh my G-d." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens smoke pot and get drunk. A character gets high on mushrooms against her friend's advice, with negative consequences. Two teen drug dealers are minor characters. Excessive drinking is shown as a way to subdue emotional pain and depression. Montage of kids popping pills experimentally prescribed by adults (feels similar to the litany of medications real-life teens are prescribed to deal with various mental health concerns).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Spontaneous is a dark romantic comedy that serves as a metaphor for understanding the anxiety and depression affecting many of today's real-life teens. Based on Aaron Starmer's YA novel, it's about how "surviving high school," once a joke, has become more literal -- here, teen characters die abruptly and distressingly as the result of spontaneous combustion. The exploding teens could be seen as representing school shooting victims, those who've accidentally overdosed, deaths via suicide, or even the intense pressure that accompanies high school life today. The combustions are very bloody (sometimes chunky, too), and one intense scene with multiple explosions could be a major anxiety trigger. (Spoiler alert!) It involves high schoolers screaming and stampeding for the exits, getting drenched in blood as their friends are rapidly bursting, and it may be extremely hard for teens to watch.  Strong language is constant ("d--k," "f--k," and much more), and there's kissing and implied sex. As a way to process trauma, main character Mara (Katherine Langford) decides to start taking drugs against her friend's advice; it makes her sick, but she still has fun. Later, she steals alcohol and gets drunk to numb her emotional pain, which is played for humor. Mara's mom and dad have a role here, too. The movie shows how helpless they feel when it comes to helping their daughter cope with fear, grief, and profound loss -- and parents are likely to benefit from watching this amazing, if intense, film about Gen Z. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHerbert K. January 2, 2021
Adult Written byTking2 March 17, 2021

Waste of Time

I wouldn’t want my children to see this movie full of negative messages, drug use and sexual situations. Main female and her sidekick look closer to 30 than 17... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bysweet sam.pie12 November 30, 2020

Too much cursing and lots of blood

there is a curse word almost every minute and dont watch if you cant handle blood spurting and splashing everywhere. there is no guts and body pieces shown, it... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byMaximoMXM September 4, 2021

Good, mature horror comedy movie

The film is good but includes violence, drugs and swearing.

Violence: 9/10 Very violent, teenagers explode in heaps and heaps of blood. There is no guts or g... Continue reading

What's the story?

In SPONTANEOUS, it's just another day at Covington High until Katelyn Ogden (Mellany Barros) spontaneously combusts during third period. What at first seems like a freak event quickly becomes an explosion epidemic, and Mara (Katherine Langford) and Dylan (Charlie Plummer) are soon literally hoping that they can survive high school. 

Is it any good?

Not since Heathers has a such a quirky, funny, wholly original, yet horrifyingly relatable tragicomic romance summed up the experience of many contemporary teens. Spontaneous' concept is bonkers -- the senior class literally starts exploding -- and remarkably, the laughs come hard. But halfway through, the tears come harder, and the quirky storyline becomes painfully resonant. Writer/first-time director Brian Duffield (adapting his screenplay from Aaron Starmer's novel) masterfully balances the film's tone, weaving together a sweet blooming romance, sarcastic and expressive dialogue ("she was a sundress of a person"), and moments of genuine terror and airsucking despair. For parents and caregivers who struggle to understand the mental health challenges that many among Gen Z face, Spontaneous is a powerful metaphor. 

Langford takes a 180-degree turn from her suicide-focused 13 Reasons Why character; Mara's story is all about realizing that if you can just hang on until graduation, you may be lucky enough to have more opportunities awaiting you. The film's tone flips after one devastating, heart-piercing scene which is so transportive that, for some, it could be too much. Unlike when Daniel Waters wrote Heathers in the 1980s, deadly violence in school is all too prevalent now. Even though Spontaneous doesn't directly indicate what the explosions are supposed to represent, it's a forceful empathizer. And as emotional as the film gets as we go off the deep end with Mara, it ends with a burst of robust hope that could be enough to buoy some teens through tough times. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Spontaneous relates to real teen life. Are the deaths by explosion metaphorical? How do you think what Gen Z has had to endure will impact them as adults?

  • Which genre would you consider this film? How does it compare to other high school movies? Romantic comedies? Mysteries? Horror? 

  • Who is the target audience for this film, and what do you think they'll take away?

  • Talk about how Spontaneous depicts grief and survivor's guilt. Is Mara's response and feelings of responsibility authentic?

  • How are drinking and substance use portrayed in the film? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love movies about high school

Themes & Topics

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