Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: Bellflower (Evan Glodell, 2011)

Bellflower is a pretty explosive debut from writer/director and lead star, Evan Glodell. Produced on a budget of only $17, 000 (and I believe he designed and constructed his own camera from vintage parts) and premiering at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the film is an impressive example of Glodell’s talents and can be forgiven for becoming a bit of a chaotic, confusing and offensive mess at times. Despite this, Glodell has blended genres in an interesting way and created a film that few viewers will shake easily, while DOP Joel Hodge has infused the film with an inventive visual aesthetic and some striking captures.

Above all, this is an intimate character study and the physically and emotionally brutal fall-out of a brief but failed relationship. It’s a tale that becomes increasingly intense, and at times, unjustifiably vicious. Bellflower is primarily focused on two slacker friends, Aiden (Tyler Dawson) and Woodrow (Glodell), who have recently moved to the West Coast to take advantage of the frivolous lifestyle. Obsessed with props from films like The Road Warrior, and convinced that there is an Apocalypse approaching, they prepare themselves in their spare time by building an improvised flamethrower and muscle car, which they call Medusa (after their gang).

They find themselves some new friends when Woodrow competes with Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a local girl, in the pub’s bug-eating contest. They pursue their immediate attraction to one another – taking a road trip to Texas together on their first date. Immediately, Woodrow experiences a change that will eventually lead to him soon wrestling with his own personal apocalypse. Woodrow falls in love with Milly, despite only being together for a few days. When a man grabs her backside during a stop, he abnormally retaliates and suffers the brunt of a beating. When they return, he is evidently more unhinged, spontaneous and cocky, but also more confident and open as an individual.

Things do not end well, as Milly had predicted on their trip – and the film morphs into a surreal and grotesque nightmare, which sees Woodrow betrayed and humiliated, and then seriously injured, falling into a black hole of depression and suppressed bitterness. He fantasizes horrific ways to exert revenge, starts a tentative affair with Milly’s closest friend and unleashes his frustrations with bursts of masculine aggression – setting things on fire and driving his car dangerously. Only Aiden, concerned and growing increasingly disillusioned himself, remains by his side.

While the performances are strong, the dialogue is off-putting at times. Though it was amusing at times and felt natural (improvised on occasions, no doubt), I felt like it didn’t enhance the interrelations all that much. The film’s second half structure is stilted, and does become a little confusing. I just struggled to accept and believe the actions of the characters, especially the central twist, which functions as the catalyst for the series of ever-worsening repercussions. 

Writing the characters the way he does, Glodell does get awfully close to demonstrating misogyny – and it becomes all about the characters being fed up with the world they live in, and desiring nothing more than to leave it all behind and be suddenly immersed in the world they have fantasised about and prepared themselves for. That’s a disturbing outlook, and one that is problematic in this film because their pain is brought about by a series of events that unfortunately don't feel grounded in any sort of reality. Still, it’s hard to fault the dark and surreal beauty of the film, and with an array of stylistic flourishes; this gritty, low-budget indie picture shoots Glodell onto the map as an ambitious young filmmaker to watch out for.

My Rating: ★★★ (B-)


  1. Your points are valid, without question, but this is still a pretty spectacular achievement for the money I'd say. The parts that let Bellflower down, though, had nothing to do with money. The story could have been tighter (and, if I'm allowed to say so, dream sequences are one of my biggest annoyances in cinema, even more so when it's not announced that they ARE dream sequences) and conversations a bit more authentic, but as you say there's some amazing cinematic talent here. I'm thinking that it might be my favourite small-budget film of the year.
    Yay! Top Ten season's drawing near!

  2. It's definitely a fine work considering the budget. I was surprised by the sequence you mention - almost as if he realised he had gone too far and figured he should make it a dream/desire, but not actually an action. It is one of my fav. small budget films of 2011, though I haven't seen too many with tiny budgets - the other one that comes to mind is Another Earth, but I wasn't a big fan of that one.