The Film: Bellflower (2011)
The Principles: Evan Glodell (Writer/Director/Star). Jessie Wiseman. Tyler Dawson. Rebekah Brandes. Vincent Grashaw.
The Premise: Two care-free best friends who are kind of innocently obsessed with a Mad Max-inspired post-apocalyptic future have their worlds turned upside down when – of course – a woman enters the picture.
Is It Good: I suppose it depends on who you are. Or who you ask. Someone who loves it will be able to give just as compelling a list of reasons why as someone who hates it. Personally I thought it was splendid.
The story centers around Woodrow and Aiden (Glodell and Dawson, respectively); two twenty-something best friends who have decided to spend their lives building a flame thrower and monstrously modified muscle car, both of which they’ll use to run shit once the apocalypse happens and the world is left as nothing more than a barren wasteland.
Enter Milly (Wiseman). She and Woodrow hit it off almost immediately (it’s hard not to when your first interaction with someone is as their competitor in a live-grasshopper-eating contest) and as she proves to be just as flighty and prone to spontaneity as he is their relationship slowly – and semi-sweetly – starts to blossom. But it’s just as soon that the film starts to weave its aesthetic sensibilities into the narrative; breaking scenes up into self-contained moments with no real sense of cohesion outside of the bare minimum needed to progress to the next one, all the while flashing little glimmers of darkness and raising pertinent questions but intentionally paying no mind to answering them. And it’s here that the film is going to lose some people, because as things escalate and the bottom starts to fall out, leaving everyone and everything to spiral downward, those aesthetic sensibilities become more layered and more fractured, ratcheting up the tension and bleak despair until it explodes in a series of frenetic, frenzied moments that have absolutely no intention of slowing down to let your white-knuckled, bug-eyed synapses catch up. Which, of course, is going to make it really difficult to process the last 20 or so minutes when, as the insanity jumps up to legitimately shocking levels, you’re given contradictory glimpses at a seemingly alternate timeline cris-crossed with sporadic jumps backward in the narrative – the whole sequence tied together with vague bits of a conversation between Woodrow and Aiden that you can’t place in any one reality.
If the film hasn’t completely disengaged you by the time the credits roll, chances are you’re gonna be a little staggered by sensory overload and not entirely sure what you just saw, but if you end up coming down on the side of it that I did you’re probably going to realize that what seemed vague and ambiguous really wasn’t. Not at all, in fact. Because what you’re left with is a film that walks the well-worn path of putting you inside a character’s head as they go through a mental breakdown, but doing so without the obvious hyper-reality of, say, a Jodorowski flim. It’s no accident that one of the very first shots is of a broken and bruised Woodrow staring off into space, because it’s here that the film thrusts you right into his head, without the courtesy of announcing your presence. And, as such, what you see is a raw, first-hand look at the mental state of a man who’s been ravaged by heartbreak, loss and trauma – both emotional and physical. Fuzzy memories and referential moments splashed with pain and rage that are amplified to the nth degree because they’re not taking place in the real world with real-world consequences. You’re watching Woodrow work through every thought, feeling, memory and impulse live from inside. Bellflower is a film that’s designed to be first-person introspection cleverly disguised as third-person narrative. The fact that it manages to actually pull that off makes it not just good, but damned incredible.
Assuming, of course, that you don’t just absolutely hate it.
Is It Worth A Look: Definitely. And honestly, even if you DO end up hating it you still want to see it because even if it doesn’t work for you that only puts a line through the script. Cinematography, performances, direction, sheer ballsiness – it’s all here and it’s all strong, strong work. You may walk away completely and hopelessly frustrated by it, but it’ll be an active frustration that’ll make you want to think about it and talk about it and think about it and talk about it some more, even if you have nothing nice to say. It’s not a perfect movie and it paints itself into tiny little corners here and there, forcing itself to sort of subtly sell out its own conceit in order to move things along, but the seams are so small as to be damn near invisible.
It’s on Instant. You know what to do.
Random Anecdotes: I wasn’t kidding when I said “legitimately shocking.” I’m not at all squeamish but I ended up covering my eyes twice: the first as a sort of precautionary thing because the tension had stretched and built up so much in such a casual way that bringing my hand up to my face was the only logical response to not being able to put it into the screen and make it stop; the second in stunned reaction to a moment so completely out of left-field that once you come down from the unapologetic “holyshit” of it you can’t help but put 2+2 together on the narrative stuff I mentioned earlier.
Cinematc Soulmates: Santa Sangre. A Streetcar Named Desire. Eraserhead. Mad Max, of course.