One of the great things about watching films on the festival circuit is that reviewers get to see some crazy films. “Bellflower” was the strangest this writer has seen in a long time. It’s a film that will probably get a very small audience, but with a little cleaning-up, there’s an opportunity for it to find its place in the niche market.
The backstory behind the film is interesting enough in itself. Writer and director Evan Glodell and his friends built the camera with which they shot it, as well as the “Medusa,” the tricked-out car on which most of the film pivots. This homemade approach is apparent in every frame, whether it’s the smudges on the lens or the muffled dialogue because the boom has moved too far away. That’s not necessarily a dig at the film because that atmosphere is what keeps it from falling into the realm of the ridiculous where the silliness outweighs the story.
Glodell stars in the film as Woodrow, a sweet, if immature, young man whose only goal is to build a flame-throwing car with his best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson). When Woodrow goes up against Milly (Jessie Wiseman) in a cricket-eating contest at a bar one night, it’s love at first sight. The two drive off to Texas for their first date, where their relationship begins. Once they get back though, it’s all downhill from there.
We’re clued into the fact that the ending won’t be a happy one, as a prologue plays in backwards motion where we see a bloody, repulsive conclusion. However, the first half in no way sets us up for what’s to come. The story’s trajectory seems quite conventional — boy meets girl, girl breaks boy’s heart, girl also comes between guy friends — but once the “Medusa” is built, the plot spirals downward into possibly a psychological breakdown and a violent melee of death and destruction.
It’s difficult to criticize the film because it’s well done for how cheaply it was made. There are a few moments where the amateur camera work is apparent, but there are also times when Glodell really understands the drunken haze in which his characters are living. The handheld work and canted angles work amongst the party scenes where the main characters are often so drunk they can barely walk or talk. As a matter of fact, even when the plot becomes out of control, the audience has already suspended disbelief about this world in which none of the characters have jobs or go to school. The main goal for Woodrow and Aiden is to build a muscle car like the one in “Mad Max,” like a couple of high school douchebags. All we see is this party atmosphere; how could things not go wrong?
The acting isn’t going to win any awards, and that’s the most distracting part of the entire film. The script is actually kind of cute, capturing perfectly the awkwardness of liking someone immediately after meeting that person. Some lines go off without a hitch, and others make the audience laugh out loud without meaning to. Or maybe Glodell does want us to laugh. Because his filmmaking is homespun, he’s always calling attention to the deficiencies of the script or the acting. It draws the viewer in and makes it so that even if you don’t like it, you have a good time.
It’s difficult to say how one feels especially in the second half as the film’s structure becomes more tricky and self-reflexive, with an ending that doubles back on itself. Glodell leaves us hanging as to which interpretation is the real one. Does Woodrow accept the responsibility of a broken heart, grow up and move on? Or does he lose his mind in a violent rampage? That’s up to the audience because Glodell has made a film that interacts with the audience at every step of the way. [B]