Fandom is an ailment for the two young leads in "Bellflower," the directorial debut of Evan Glodell. A scrappy drama that takes several bizarre turns, the movie revolves around a pair of happy-go-lucky guys obsessed with the post-apocalyptic universe of "Mad Max." Spending their days jacking around, shooting propane for kicks and building a flamethrower, they thoroughly engulf themselves in an imaginary playground, with little regard for the consequences of their actions. Sifting through their hedonistic lives, Glodell builds to a dystopian climax as their carefree behavior causes the universe they inhabit to gradually erode.
[Editor's Note: This review was originally published during indieWIRE's coverage of this year's Sundance Film Festival, where "Bellflower" world premiered. It comes out this Friday, August 5 in New York and Los Angeles through Oscilloscope Laboratories and will hit select cities over the next two months.]
Glodell plays Woodrow, a smarmy dreamer constantly accompanied by Aiden (Tyler Dawson), his best pal and the visionary behind their made-up gang, "Mother Medusa," their own version of the "Mad Max" experience. Alternately imagining themselves as unstoppable road warriors and funneling booze, they appear content with aimless routine. The early scenes of "Bellflower" identify with the joyride defining their existence. When Aiden meets the equally fun-loving Milly (Jessie Wiseman), the two decide to drive all the way to Texas on their first date, sipping whiskey from the built-in dispenser of Aiden's ramshackle car. Days later, they arrive home just in time to hit up a house party hosted by Milly's shy pal Courtney (Rebekah Brandes).
So goes the wild rush of their collective lifestyle, which Glodell captures in stylized, high contrast visuals and frenetic camerawork. Eventually, the group's rambunctious mentality folds back on itself, and the fantasy of the Mother Medusa gang begins to infiltrate their reality. While the movie begins with a quote from "Lord Humongous" (based on The Humungus character from "The Road Warrior") saying that he "cannot be defied," it's actually Woodrow and Aiden who commit themselves to that slogan—until it backfires with the sudden evaporation of Woodrow and Millie's relationship. With the crumbling of their romance, so goes the larger stability of life on Bellflower Avenue, the rundown street where these confused characters live.
Glodell spent years producing the movie out of his pocket and while the ultra-thin shoestring budget shows, that only extends its raggedy appeal. When a freak accident causes one of the characters to slowly lose his mind, Glodell's makeshift production values inform his uneven subjectivity. In its third act, a prolonged sequence grows increasingly disturbing to the point where it appears the filmmaker has lost his way. But once it returns to an earlier point in the story, Glodell reveals his full strategy: He's daring viewers to handle a ludicrous twist before proving that he's smarter than that. Despite its meandering plot, "Bellflower" presents its doom-laden vision as an astonishingly distinctive state of mind, arguing that the end of one self-made world always marks the start of a new one.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? "Bellflower" unquestionably provides a phenomenal showcase for newcomer Glodell that's all the more impressive given its multi-year production history and minuscule budget, a backstory that should help garner some media attention. Still, it's a little too strange for mainstream appeal, and should play well mainly at hip festivals like South by Southwest. Its best bet for widespread recognition will be channel surfers who might stumble upon it on VOD, but Glodell himself should get plenty of professional mileage out of the attention.
criticWIRE grade: B+