"Bellflower" With a Flamethrower

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 14, 2011

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Grade: B

Girls, be careful how you break up with a guy who owns his own flamethrower.

An angsty missive from the broken heart of dude nation, Bellflower is the story of love gone wrong with a heady, apocalyptic twist. A surprise smash at Sundance, writer/director Evan Glodell’s debut is stubbornly original and sometimes just plain stubborn. It’s confounding, but there’s something extremely personal happening here.

Named for the desolate L.A. strip consisting exclusively of dive bars and low-rent apartment complexes, the film stars Glodell as Woodrow, a 20-something slacker who is, like everybody else in this universe, a raging alcoholic. Between the blur of blacked-out evenings, Woodrow and his best friend, Aiden (Tyler Dawson), obsessively rewatch Mad Max movies and tinker with homemade weapons of mass destruction, joking about being prepared for the impending apocalypse.

Enter Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a bad news kind of gal who wins Woodrow’s heart after beating him in the local tavern’s cricket-eating contest. She’s obviously nothing but trouble, but at least she tries to warn him first.

As forewarned, things don’t stay sweet for long. I don’t want to reveal much, not just for fear of spoilers, but also because the movie goes so cockeyed that a brief synopsis wouldn’t do it justice. Barreling along in a brain-damaged hallucinatory rage, the movie drifts in and out of fantasy and nightmare. Catastrophes and casualties mount as Woodrow and Milly find themselves locked in a spiral of cruelty and guilt.

Shot on hand-made digital cameras, the photography drifts in and out of focus with a thick coat of grime smeared across the lens. A pulsating orange color scheme ebbs and flows depending on the intensity of the scene. The film’s sheer ugliness is paradoxically beautiful to behold. Glodell’s filmmaking sets your teeth on edge.

Looming large over the picture’s second half is the Medusa, a 1972 Buick Skylark modified by Aiden to break speed records and belch flames. It’s a worthy ride for Mad Max himself, and as far as over-compensating symbols of male aggression go, you’d be hard pressed to top it.

Skidding out into abstraction, Bellflower both embraces and critiques the macho muscle-car posturing epitomized by the Medusa. The increasingly violent breaks with “reality” seem to be subconscious projections, not just by Woodrow, but by Glodell as well. They’re both trying to assert their masculinity in the face of sadness and humiliation. It’s a raw, emotionally honest depiction of heartbreak as a personal apocalypse, which I suppose might sound silly if you haven’t had your heart broken lately.

Read our interview with Evan Glodell, who wrote, directed and stars in Bellflower here.

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