Bellflower *** ½
Directed by: Evan Glodell.
Written by: Evan Glodell.
Starring: Evan Glodell (Woodrow), Jessie Wiseman (Milly), Tyler Dawson (Aiden), Rebekah Brandes (Courtney), Vincent Grashaw (Mike), Zack Kraus (Elliot), Keghan Hurst (Sarah).
Bellflower is a distinctive, one of kind movie, made on a show string budget by Evan Glodell – who directed, wrote and stars in the movie, and also invented the camera used to give the movie is very distinct visual look. I have no idea what he did with the camera, but it appears that he pieced it together from other cameras – and the effect is strange. Bellflower looks like no other movie I have ever seen. Oh, and he also built the flame spewing car that becomes such a memorable part of the movie.
The plot seems standard issue, American indie at first. Sensitive boy Woodrow (Glodell) meets smoking hot chick Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and falls in love. On their first date, she tells him to take her to the dirtiest place he knows to eat – so they hit the road to Texas (from California) to eat at a road side joint he once passed. They have an easy chemistry together, and talk in seeming clichés – she telling him that he doesn’t really want her “I’ll just hurt you” she warns, but he doesn’t listen. He should have.
We know from the beginning that all is not going to turn out right in this story. We catch glimpses of the future in the films opening, and we see Woodrow covered in blood, so we know something is amiss. And despite the seeming sweetness of the scenes with Woodrow and Milly together, there is definitely something off right from the beginning. Woodrow doesn’t seem to have a job, and spends all of his time with his best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson), designing flame throwers, explosives and supping up cars, and preparing their “gang” (the two of them) for a Mad Max style apocalypse. They look to be about 30 – so at least a decade too old to still be indulging in these sorts of fantasies. As for Milly, she lives with a guy already, Mike (Vincent Grashaw), and although it appears like she thinks of them as just friends, he thinks of them as something more. She too, is still irresponsible – taking off without paying her rent for one thing. And although Woodrow believes them to be the “perfect couple”, we glimpse them in scenes where it’s clear they’re not. Woodrow is not the sensitive, good guy he appears to be. And Milly is certainly not the “perfect girl” he envisions her as.
Bellflower gets much darker when the relationship inevitably crashes and burns like we, but not Woodrow, saw coming from the beginning of the movie. But instead of learning from his heartbreak, and deciding to grow up, Woodrow simply replaces one fantasy world with another one – the happy one he thought he had with Milly, but really didn’t, with an extremely violent one, full of blood, murder, suicide and all sorts of depravity. Woodrow has not really grown up all – but retreated further into his own mind, his own fantasies, and with Aiden as an enabler, that becomes easy to do.
Bellflower is not a perfect movie – the plot meanders a little too much, and takes a little too long to get where it’s going. The acting is scattershot, as you would expect from a movie of this size. The main actors – Glodell, Dawnson and especially Wiseman are quite good, but the rest of the cast is a little uneven, although that could be because their characters are somewhat ill defined in the screenplay.
But the heart of the movie is terrific. This is one of the distinct visual films of the year, full of saturated colors, dirt, grim and blood. Everything seemed slightly skewed in a way that works for the movie tremendously well. What Glodell and cinematographer Jesse Hodge do here is amazing when you consider their budget (apparently $17,000).
Bellflower represents one of the best debut films of the year. Whether or not Glodell will be able to carry forward into his next film what he did here is the question that for now remains unanswered. Many first time directors try to cram too much into their films – try to say everything they want to say in just one movie. Glodell doesn’t. He takes what could have been a standard issue mumblecore film, and twisted it in new and exciting way. His film is honest, and there is more here than meets the eye. Yes, the visuals are spectacular in Bellflower – but there is a pain and honesty here than feels real. Many directors seemingly celebrate their arrested development – Glodell doesn’t. I have a feeling this is the beginning of a major career.