MOVIE REVIEW: Bellflower
Starring Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson and Jessie Wiseman
Is Evan Glodell’s Bellflower a genre bending game-changer or a thoughtlessly juvenile examination of traumatized love? Even after seeing the film twice and taking with Glodell himself I’m still not sure. Bellflower’s schizophrenic aesthetic (half-blurred images, smooth tracking shots, grizzly violence) matches an incredibly subjective narrative (flashbacks, distrusting memory, fantasy), yet this correlation doesn’t make the film any less jarring. Glodell mixes genres like oil and water, fusing aspects of horror, melodrama, and coming-of-age to create the cinematic equivalent of a Frankenstein’s monster. There’s poetry in the madness, but also plenty of self-indulgence.
Throughout Bellflower, Southern California is a blown out wasteland of empty lots, endless urban streets, and smoggy horizons. Twenty something’s Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) get their kicks talking about the end of the world. Fire, exhaust, and gasoline fuel their day-to-day existence, and the two friends dream of combining all three in the construction of an apocalypse car they’ve deemed “The Medusa”, inspired by the iconic character Lord Humungus from George Miller’s The Road Warrior. When Woodrow meets an attractive young woman named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a local dive bar, Bellflower sheds its masculine skin for the glassy viewfinder of love at first sight. But how much of Woodrow’s rosy lens should we take at face value, especially in these early scenes of pure bliss? This essential question mark defines much of Bellflower, and as Woodrow experiences the familiar swoon of romance followed promptly by relentless heartache, much of Glodell’s vision rests on the fine line between sanity and madness.
Bellflower clearly values brawn over brains, instinct instead of logic, and this often-confrontational nature turns exhausting fast. Glodell’s characters, mostly made up of professional house partiers and permanent dead heads, share a disturbing fixation on violent machines and their potential for destruction. Guns, flamethrowers, and incendiary devices are prominent throughout. No one really thinks before they act, and while that may be Glodell’s point, it makes for some tiring dialogue within a few Jersey Shore-style screaming matches. In fact, because Bellflower treats emotional love and physical torture in the same heightened irrational light, the two opposing tones start to blend together with every slow motion shot and extreme camera angle. Lurching forward and backward in blatantly sensationalistic strokes, Bellflower sticks the viewer with ambiguous jumps in time, reveling in the possibility of violence while also shaming its characters for thinking about it in the first place. Contradictions like these abound in Bellflower.
Aside from its batty style and narrative, Bellflower is notable for being one of the few recent examples of true independent filmmaking. Glodell financed the film himself and constructed camera rigs from scratch. He even built the Medusa car and the flamethrower, just some of the many mechanized metaphors in the film, with his key collaborators and crew. Though Bellflower might be most interesting because of the gaps in between Glodell’s distrusting take on the classic boy-meets-girl fairytale. Pivotal moments of dominance in Woodrow and Milly’s relationship are jumped over, making it seem like these scenarios represent a form of fiction within a fiction, or could be just too personal for Woodrow to remember correctly. Either way, the stunning ambition and ambiguity of a great director is evident throughout Bellflower, but so is the cavalier arrogance usually associated with amateurish debut films. Which one is the true Evan Glodell? Your guess is as good as mine.