REVIEW: Bellflower [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 106 minutes | Release Date: August 5th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Oscilloscope Pictures
Director(s): Evan Glodell
Writer(s): Evan Glodell

“I’ll eat some bugs. What’s the big deal?”

When one thinks post-apocalyptic, images of desert wastelands, Wild West lawlessness, and a penchant for violence ring loud. We anticipate the end of the world leaving us in a void without order and the survivors having the ability to do whatever is necessary to survive. But what happens when we juxtapose these concepts onto the volatility inherent with the end of a romantic relationship? As real a ‘world’ to the couple involved—not to mention the friends choosing sides for war in the aftermath—as the whole of their existence, rage, anger, guilt, and revenge are all that’s left. To them a tiny street in Hollywood on which they all reside is everything. So when the bomb ignites and chaos reigns, Bellflower becomes a lawless state.

I applaud writer/director/engineer/lead actor Evan Glodell‘s ambitions to make this truth a reality with his labor of love—that took three years of his life—debut feature. It’s all packaged in a stunningly gorgeous sight courtesy of cinematographer Joel Hodge, but when you look close you’ll see its goals are simply too lofty to achieve. A clumsy script, clunky acting, and the use of a cinematic cliché equivalent to a restart button all hinder it from becoming the great film hipsters of the world feel the need to laud it as. Yes, we all love fire and muscle cars growling as smoke bellows above, but to what end does that become more important than the quality of the story itself? There is a lot to like in the journey and the visual splendor of an intricately edited finale does excite, I just wish the whole were as esoteric as its message requires.

Starting with a series of images played in reverse to assimilate us into the aesthetic of focus pulls and dirty lenses, the abstract ideas of a God of fire wreaking havoc on those who have deceived him come through nicely. Lord Humungous is alive and vengeful as auditory roars embrace the over-saturated film exploding with horrors we hope to see throughout. We yearn for the carnage alluded to here and can’t wait for the allegory of death and destruction left in the wake of a break-up. This will be the metaphorical imagery of psychological pain, the withdrawal of physical contact and sexual desire, and the fantasized bloodlust of a lover scorned. But when the focus aligns and we’re introduced to Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson), it’s as though we’ve been transported into a new film.

All semblance of chaos is removed in lieu of a by the books—albeit indie ‘cool’—romance of eccentrics. Introduced courtesy of a cricket-eating contest, Woodrow and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) spark quickly and burn bright through a whirlwind road trip into Texas on a quest for the greasiest spoon they know. It is idyllic, love blossoms, and the quirks most would find cheesy and annoying hold an endearing value between the two. They drink whiskey from Woodrow’s tricked out car’s spout, engage in fights with dirty truckers, and forget the life they left back in California. For these few days traveling with only lust, humor, and intellectual passion to worry about, Woodrow and Milly are joined as one. But like all good things, the end must come. Home, amidst the friends they left behind, kept the insecurities and questions they hoped leave behind intact.

Milly’s vixen of a best friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) enters the fray as a love interest for Aiden while her male roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw)—whom Woodrow surprisingly doesn’t feel too jealous about—is injected in as a womanizing pig with no problem expressing his feelings of superiority. They both play larger roles as the plot continues into the downward spiral of stagnancy, but neither ever becomes fully formed since merely plot devices devoid of any real depth themselves. Grashaw is possibly the most intriguing of all if only because of the mystery shrouding him and his complete lack of a soul, yet he’s still simply fodder for the hell of Lord Humungous’ fiery rage. Bellflower doesn’t care about his wellbeing or in explaining exactly what his motivations are. All it truly wants is to portray the triangle of Woodrow, Milly, and Aiden—the hero, his love, and his brother.

And here is where I wish the whole romantic tryst could have been less real. We slog through the courting as though the film had turned into a straightforward linear tale and then become hit over the head with a disjointed series of vignettes escalating further and further into oblivion. We become giddy with anticipation as the boys manufacture their own working flamethrower—yes, boys and girls, that thing was real—and retrofit a tank of a car into their nuclear abyss savior Mother Medusa, but we’re unable to focus on this creativity until dragged into the nightmarish world of Woodrow’s warped and clouded mind. Glodell is so cavalier in making events reveal fantasy yet the tone never differs from reality enough to become more than a lazy trick ruining the trust earned at the start. The worst part, however, is that I enjoyed the internalizations so much more.

Looking back a day later, what remains in my mind are the hysterics of Dawson—a manic, Vince Vaughn-like stream of words always exiting his mouth before thinking first—the brutally feral sights of Medusa and the flames burning Woodrow’s heart, and the aesthetically awesome flair of Hodge’s camera. The metaphor turning this battlefield of love into a Mad Max wasteland devoid of consequences is an idea with tons of possibilities and Glodell makes good on many promises. Certain acts allow the allusions to confuse and distort and make us project our own painful memories of loss and betrayal upon them. But the rest still wants to be a film with a start, middle, and end. Bellflower is not that beast, it needs freedom to maim, rape, and assault our sensibilities while making us recall repressed feelings. Unfortunately—to me anyway—this creature never quite escapes its cage.

courtesy of Oscilloscope Films

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