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Debut film a fiery mess
Set against the backdrop of Los Angeles’ urban sprawl, “Bellflower” is like a mumblecore film with a case of roid rage. Convinced a global apocalypse is right around the corner, slacker friends Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) spend their days swigging beer while building flamethrowers and muscle cars for their imaginary militia, dubbed “Mother Medusa.” Before the world ends, however, Woodrow meets and falls in love with Milly (Jessie Wiseman), thus setting off a chain of events that lead to blood and betrayal.
While the film lacks strengths in many areas, “Bellflower” especially yearns for some focus. Glodell—who wrote, produced, edited and directed the film—seems nearly incapable of expressing an emotion that isn’t marred with anger and imprecision. From its random moments of extreme violence to its incoherent narrative, “Bellflower” is an indulgent monstrosity, committing acts of anarchism and passing them off as feats of whimsy.
Glodell used cameras he jerry-rigged from pieces of other cameras, like some sort of cinematic Dr. Frankenstein. Old, analog equipment is merged with newer, digital equipment, resulting in something that looks like it belongs in a steam-punk graphic novel.
While undeniably inventive, this DIY trickery is just as gimmicky as the film itself. “Bellflower” has a distinct visual style, and in spurts, is outright gorgeous to look at; the film’s Sepia-toned atmosphere and starkly contrasting tones, all captured in natural light, are impressive.
Despite its occasional beauty, the film’s aesthetic is arbitrary and ill–conceived. Glodell directs with the mind of a gear head, not an artist. Style needs substance to back it up and “Bellflower,” with its thinly veiled characters and murky moral compass, has plenty of the former but is woefully short on the latter, making for an arduous and rarely rewarding experience.
Though it’s not for a lack of trying. When it comes to performance, Glodell strives for and often achieves a sense of naturalism. Early interactions between Woodrow and Milly—particularly during an impromptu cross–country trip—are endearing and most importantly, feel real.
Glodell was likely setting up for the tumult that erupts between them as the film progresses, but the tactic goes unrewarded. As good as these quieter moments are, they’re not enough to justify the vitriol Glodell unleashes on his characters as the film reaches its conclusion. Virtually nothing in “Bellflower” is earned but rather forced and ham-fisted.
As a result, the film is virtually impossible to take seriously. Even for a debut effort, there’s a distinct lack of nuance saturating the experience. To his credit though, Glodell seems intent on making a statement with “Bellflower.” The message just happens to be a Budweiser-soaked yawp of anarchistic glee that should fail to resonate with anybody other than high school boys who skateboard.
For Glodell and his extreme case of arrested development, girls really are the end of the world. Speaking volumes of his immaturity, “Bellflower” is a naïve treatment of male and female relations (whether they be modern or in this case, apocalyptic) that’s likely to hit theaters this year.