Film review by: Witney Seibold
Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) have a dream. In the near future, when the world runs out of oil and begins to resemble the desert wasteland of their favorite movie, “Mad Max,” they want to be the first badasses on the scene in the first muscle car, to lead the first future gang of misfits to flame-crackling, muscle-car glory. To that end, they spend much of their time souping up their cars to be extra fast and noisy, giving them loving nicknames, and installing whiskey spigots in the dashboard. They are also building a homemade flamethrower. ‘Cause, y’know, flamethrowers are way badass. They essentially want to be Lord Humongous, hoping that they’re apocalyptic dreams will come true. They’re like a particularly resourceful Beavis and Butt-Head: Pyromaniacs, obsessed with and sex and drinking and drugs and little else, only somewhat dimly perceiving the world around them. They even speak in a dumbed-down gearhead patois that consists of rudimentary monosyllables and the word “dude.” Indeed, their language is so unique, it begins to take on a rhythm all its own by the film’s ending.
They rant, they mutter, they don’t really communicate in any sort of meaningful way. Even though Woodrow and Aiden are likely in their mid-to-late 20s, they still behave and talk as if they’re 14, only with more access to liquor, gasoline, and sex.
There’s a lot that really dirty and unpleasant about Glodell’s debut feature “Bellflower,” which caused a sensation at Sundance a few months back. The entire world we inhabit is a dirty one, that reeks of decade-old mattresses, spilled malt liquor, male armpits, and the stale exhaust belching from an old car that’s running on empty. The film was shot on special lenses invented especially by the filmmakers, giving the film an over-saturated and suffocating look. The filmmakers are also careful not to give too many definite closeups of any settings, and the small prop-like details don’t really betray any specifics, effectively removing it from time. In terms of the way “Bellflower” was shot, you will see nothing like it.
The film’s content is another matter, as I feel it may outrage a lot of audience. First off, the story contains no small amount of misogyny. Woodrow finds himself drawn to the barfly Millie (Jessie Wiseman), who takes him all the way out to Texas on their first date, and she warns him early that she’ll break his heart. Woodrow is prepared for the apocalypse, but the film soon begins to draw a sloppy parallel between the end of the world and actual heartbreak. Sadly, this means that Millie only serves as a heartbreaking slut whose wild antics are part of her feminine nature, and who can be seduced by a good bout of loving, honest abuse. Of course, by the film’s end, Woodrow has suffered some brain damage, and I was unsure how much of the film was hallucinated. Millie, at least doesn’t suffer the same fate as the poor Courtney (Rebakah Brandes), who looks like she is still 14, and ends up in a painfully emotionally passive position that ends in tears and bloodshed. Again, though, I can’t be sure if that was a hallucination.
But I sense that the filmmakers themselves are not misogynists, and have just folded the hared of women into this arrested adolescent, immature apocalypse fantasy. It’s using women in the same way that Robert Rodriguez’ noir pastiche “Sin City” amplified the misogyny inherent to many noir stories. Or, more accurately, the way that Michael Winterbottom’s controversial “The Killer Inside Me” played up the shrinking violets to accentuate the depraved fantasies of the lead character.
There is a definite drive behind “Bellflower” that a lot of first-time filmmakers lack. While the entire final 30 minutes of the film play out like an out-of-place revenge fantasy, the film possesses enough of an idea to keep to standing upright, drunkenly and angrily, in front of its audiences. It taps into, dissects, and attempts to indicate the immature self-destructive nature of the ultramale myths that infect the teenage mind (the same myths that were brushed upon in David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” which were, in turn, somewhat inspired by a generation’s notion of what maleness is). Through all the hatred, violence, and stylized weirdness, there’s an earnest (if somewhat sloppy) essay on the evolution of boy culture lurking under the dirty skin of “Bellflower.” It may blow your mind. It may hurt. It may seem like a celebration of idiocy. But that it invokes so much is, I feel, something of a triumph.