Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 08 May 2011
Source Oscilloscope Laboratories 35mm print
Categories The 2011 Independent Film Festival Boston
Bellflower, the debut feature of its multi-hyphenate writer-director-star Evan Glodell, is perhaps a film that is best seen without much prior knowledge on the part of the viewer. The best thing about the film – yes, better than the car that belches fire – is its gutsy willingness to disorient its audience. In other words, if you want to get the full Bellflower effect, you might want to stop reading this now.
I went into Bellflower knowing only that it was about a pair of Road Warrior-obsessed friends who build the aforementioned pyrotechnic wonder in preparation for the apocalypse. I suppose I was expecting a cultish post apocalyptic romp, something with gadgetry and quips. But while Bellflower has its share of interesting toys – notably a flamethrower and a car that dispenses whisky – and welcome moments of humor, it really wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
The first half of the film is at times self-consciously twee. After Glodell’s boyish character Woodrow meets a girl named Milly at a bug-eating contest, he shows up for their first date with a bouquet of flowers and they end up taking a road trip from California to Texas when Milly suggests that they eat at the “cheapest, nastiest place” that Woodrow can think of. They seem like a perfect match, not in the least because Milly doesn’t seem to mind that when she asks Woodrow what he does, he answers that he’s building a flamethrower. Woodrow and Milly’s impromptu idyll provides the film with some genuine moments of ramshackle charm, such as when the pair trade in Woodrow’s car for a motorcycle and ride off into the sunset. But the goofy romance is soon eroded by jealousy, and the film takes a startling turn.
Bellflower has been labeled as a variation on the so-called mumblecore movement of chatty, low budget indie films about relationships, and it did indeed bring to mind the Duplass brothers’ 2008 film Baghead, which combines mumblecore elements with elements of slasher films and other genres. There is a sense throughout the film that something very big is about to happen to upset the slacker status quo. Blame Woodrow and his best friend Aiden (played with hilarious laid back amiability by Tyler Dawson) for talking so much about the impending apocalypse.
But – spoiler – it’s not the apocalypse that comes, exactly, just the end of Woodrow and Milly’s relationship, accompanied by a lot of anger and testosterone. Woodrow begins to lose his grip on reality, and the look of the film – already quirkily striking thanks to the handmade cameras that Glodell employed for the project – grows increasingly distorted. We get scenes of brutal revenge in hyper-saturated colors, an unexpected fever dream of violence.
It’s upsetting stuff. As thrilling as it is to be wrong-footed by a film, Bellflower’s surprises are of a pretty troubling variety. All of the characters are flakes, but only Milly’s flakiness results first in a horrific car accident (I think that part was real.), but also a vicious imaginary rampage by her wronged lover. Do we really need another film vividly depicting, if not celebrating, a man’s violent rage toward a woman, and women in general? Not really. No.
But we do need small films that push the envelope in terms of genre, defy audience expectations, and catapult us into the unknown. We need visually inventive pictures that are a risk to make and to watch. Of course, there’s no separating Bellflower’s virtues from its imperfections, so viewers who choose to take this apocalyptic ride can only confront the film as a dizzying, troubling whole and do their best to sort out its aftermath.
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