Review: Bellflower (TBC) / Directed by: Evan Glodell / Screenplay by: Evan Glodell / Starring: Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman, Rebekah Brandes / Release Date: TBC
American independent cinema is back! After the success of films like The Woman, Red White and Blue and Super it feels like 2011 has seen the shot in the arm that the low budget indie scene needed. Bellflower is the latest in a brilliant run of low budget gems and is a snarling, angry and fiercely original thrill ride. It’s a hell of a debut from writer/director/actor Evan Glodell and is one of the most assured directorial debuts of the last ten years.
Starting with a quote from Mad Max 2 character Lord Humungous, the film follows the exploits of two best friends and geeks Woodrow and Aiden (played by Evan Glodell and Tyler Dawson) who, from an early age, have both been obsessed with the Mad Max films. They are so obsessed that they have planned out that once the apocalypse happens they will form a gang called ‘Mother Medusa’ and rule the wasteland. Even going to the extent that they have built homemade flamethrowers and are on the look out for a muscle car which they can turn into their apocalypse wagon. All is well in their world such as it is, but then one night they go to a bar and meet Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) and there is an instant attraction between Milly and Woodrow. The two of them embark on a whirlwind romance and disappear on a road trip to Texas for a few days. Woodrow is smitten but Milly is non committal and secretive. Aiden is left out in the cold for a bit as he hopelessly tries to woo Courtney. Some time goes by and Woodrow catches Milly cheating on him, heartbroken he flees the scene and ends up in a crash. Once discharged from hospital and with a possible brain injury he starts having revenge fantasies about getting his own back on Milly and begins a fling with Courtney. All the while Aiden is there beside him, still keen on them being the lone survivors of the apocalypse. What happens is kind of a love triangle with each character exposing more and more of their layers of hurt and how far they will go to share their heartbreak with the world.
Bellflower is visually striking considering it was made for only $17,000. The early scenes are shot through a lens filter that lends the whole thing the feel of a summer holiday romance. Adding to this is the fact that in each frame quite often some of it is intentionally out of focus, with only what matters in the scene actually in focus. This again makes the first act feel like it is a memory being recalled by a somewhat unreliable narrator. As the film goes on and things get more and more messed up and complicated for our characters, dirt is smeared and thrown on to the camera and it feels like the happy memory has been invaded by the scars carried by the characters. It’s a wonderful effect and really makes Bellflower stand out from the crowd. Equally as impressive is the fact that Evan Glodell wrote, directed and stars in this thing as well as actually building the flamethrowers and flame throwing muscle cars that are a major point of the film. Bellflower also has one of the best soundtracks of the year, along with The Woman and Drive it is a great example of when a soundtrack is used as almost another character in the film and builds an overall feeling.
The screenplay and strength of the character building are key to this film's success and a reason why, when the final act goes into full on overdrive, it really works. Evan Glodell as Woodrow is fantastic, as gifted in front of the camera as he is behind it. Woodrow starts off very shy and completely charming but Milly really brings his personality out and their romance is really well handled. You can genuinely see why the two characters would be attracted to each other and their scenes on their road trip really work to get across the idea that this was a defining point in their lives. Glodell is great as a romantic lead but there is also another side to him which is extremely violent and brutal. As soon as Aiden is threatened or his heart is in jeopardy, Woodrow will think nothing of putting a bottle over the head of the attacker and Glodell handles both sides of the character flawlessly. Jessie Wiseman as Milly is just as good and perhaps just as damaged. Everybody has met this character at one point in their lives, the lively hard drinking girl who is just out for some fun. Of course the problems come when you imbue this person with a romanticism that just isn’t there and put them on a pedestal because you will almost always be disappointed. Wiseman plays this role to perfection and you grow to really like her so when the inevitable betrayal scene happens you feel just as disappointed as the characters in the film. Later scenes with her cracking under the pressure of the jealousy and pain that makes up the final act are brilliant and prove this actress is a major find. Tyler Dawson is also very good as Aiden, this is the character that initially you think is going to be the one to crack first and go on a rampage and Glodell has a lot of fun in playing with this, flipping the expectations on their head. Rebekah Brandes is also impressive as Courtney, perhaps the most damaged of all of them and showing an inner pain and constant sense of low self esteem with simple dialogue and little character moments. There is a real sense of confusion and pain in Bellflower, much like films Reality Bites and Clerks conveyed the sense of aimlessness that generation X felt in the 90s, Bellflower feels like a cry for help from the trenches of generation Y who have even less to live for and have grown numb to it. The bleak message seems to be that no matter what, your best moment will eventually turn out to be built on lies so you may as well prepare for it to all come crashing down, so why not live for anarchy? Modern life doesn’t seem to be working out too well.
The final act is where the structure all comes crashing down around you. The good performances and character work that has been built in the first half leads to a growing feel of unease and tension that definitely had me on the edge of my seat. People say and do awful things as a means of dealing with their pain and each act leads to a more visceral and painful reaction from these damaged people. Much of this is presented as subjective in a similar manner to the climax of Darren Aronofsky’s debut film Pi. You can definitely interpret what unfolds in your own way or you can go with what is presented to you. Glodell doesn’t give you any easy answers and through clever editing and little details he invites you to make up your own mind about what really went down.
Bellflower is a fantastic debut from a promising new talent. I am so anxious to see what else Evan Glodell can do that I wish I had some money to give him to just go make something else. In time this may well prove to be as big a representative generational film as Saturday Night Fever, Trainspotting, Donnie Darko or Fight Club.
Expected rating: 7 out of 10