''It's my Disney movie,'' filmmaker Harmony Korine says about his new feature, Spring Breakers, and he means this in various ways. Several of his young stars come from the world of family entertainment - even James Franco, his male lead, has just appeared in Disney's Oz the Great and Powerful. But Korine's version of Disney is bright and dark and hypnotic, a vividly unsettling and tactile film that follows four young women who travel from college to Florida to take part in the annual Dionysian ritual of spring break.
He had been thinking about the meaning of this event for a while, collecting visual references for it, but what set the film in train ''was when an image came into my head one day of girls in bikinis and ski masks robbing fat tourists on the beach. And they had silencers.''
Korine, now 40, made his name at 19 with a screenplay for Larry Clark, Kids, that depicted the bleakest extremes of adolescent experience. His own films as a director - starting with Gummo in 1997 - are very different beasts from the scripts he wrote for Clark: they are strange, fragmented, demanding, rigorously experimental and surprising.
With Spring Breakers, which is both consistent with and very different from his earlier work, he has had more publicity and a wider audience, principally because of his cast: he has Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical, Selena Gomez of Wizards of Waverley Place (and Justin Bieber's former girlfriend) and Ashley Benson of teen drama Pretty Little Liars alongside his wife, actress Rachel Korine.
He wanted the Disney princesses, he says, ''because I liked the idea that their close connection to a current pop mythology was related to the patchwork of the film''. He cast rapper Gucci Mane as a crime kingpin ''because he's one of my favourite characters in real life, I'm a huge fan'', and he went to James Franco, whom he's known for several years, because he was looking for ''pure off-the-wall charisma and violence''.
The phenomenon Korine is depicting, spring break, is like schoolies squared. But Korine's four female characters speak about it otherwise: for them it represents something else, something other than excess, consumption, sex and drugs. It seems to stand for a kind of transcendence of the everyday.
Their quest for fulfilment is achieved and derailed in part because of their encounter with a rapper and drug dealer, Alien (Franco with cornrows, tattoos and a rambling vision of the American Dream) who takes them in and inducts them into his world.
They're not exactly passive victims, however: each girl makes her own choices about what follows. ''We have this saying here,'' Korine says, ''game recognises game. And I think they all recognise each other's game, and it becomes a kind of sociopathic love story.''
Korine talks in long, lyrical sentences that conjure up the world of the film vividly. When he talks about shooting during a genuine Florida spring break, he is quick to emphasise he wasn't simply seeking authenticity.
''None of the movie is real, and it's not meant to be; it's more like a half-dream, like the real world pushed into something hyperpoetic.''
Korine and his director of photography, Benoit Debie (who shot Gaspar Noe's striking Enter the Void), spent time discussing the look of the movie, and they looked at reference images of spring break that captured ''a kind of hypersexualised, hyperviolent, extreme subject matter'', when ''all around it were these more childlike pop-culture indicators and details''.
''The colours, the bathing suits, the Mountain Dew bottles, the puke, the doughnuts, the beer, the palms: there was almost a coded language that was interesting to me,'' Korine says.
''And I started to think about the surfaces of the film and the tone. This idea of the film as candy. And then underneath it, the bleed from the surface becomes the meaning, the pathology.''
There is a narrative trajectory in Spring Breakers, but there are also interruptions and repetitions that disrupt it.
There's a scene of violence, a robbery, that takes place early in the film and is then repeated in a very different context. ''We see it from a distance and there's a strange beauty to it,'' Korine says.
''And later we come back and it's up close and the whole meaning and feeling of it changes and devolves into something more violent.''
Shifting perspectives, a combination of the blatant and the ambiguous, become central to the film's progression.
How does Korine mean us to think of these annual rituals and how the four girls experience them? At one point Franco's character, Alien, seated at a white piano by the pool, breaks into Britney Spears' Everytime and it's tempting to assume irony here, but it also seems very heartfelt. That sense of double possibility is everywhere in Spring Breakers.
''You could say, hey, there's something ironic about it, and it does work in in that way, too,'' Korine says, ''but at the same time, within Alien's character, he completely 100 per cent believes in the power of that song and its sweetness. Where is the line between them? Well, that's the way the film was designed, that it's sort of up to the viewer. And hopefully everyone will have a different feeling about it.
''I wanted the movie to demand something from you; that you had to be receptive to it.''
He has made Spring Breakers, he says, in a time ''when there's no such thing as high or low, it's all been exploded. There is no underground or above-ground, there's nothing that's alternative. We're at a point of post-everything, so it's all about finding the spirit inside, and the logic, and making your own connections.'' He is in a position to recall a different world.
''When I was a kid, if there was some kind of hardcore record that I would want, I would have read about it in the back pages of Forced Exposure magazine and I would send in $5 and it would take six months for it to come, and I would be so excited and I would wait by the mailbox every day until this thing was delivered. And when it finally arrived I would have this personal, unique, isolated experience with a thing I had waited for forever.
''But now that doesn't happen. Now it's all on YouTube. I could type it in, experience it in a moment and then forget about it 10 seconds later.''
Korine is not being nostalgic, he is quick to say, or valuing one specific experience over another. ''It's not a thing that's better or worse. It's just different. And you can never go back.''
■ Spring Breakers opens on May 9.