Bellflower probably isn’t the movie you’re expecting. This ultra-low-budget effort is being promoted as if it’s a slacker hybrid of Mad Max and Jackass, but it’s more of an arty, unsettling and occasionally ugly psychodrama that could fit on a double bill with David Lynch’s Inland Empire.
Director/writer Evan Glodell plays the shy and kinda dumb 20-something Woodrow. He and his more extroverted friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson) have an overgrown-fanboy obsession with the Mad Max movies. But they also have a sawed-off shotgun, a garage-built flamethrower and a fondness for blowing things up that makes them seem more Columbine than Comic-Con.
Aiden’s fantasy is that when the apocalypse arrives he and Woodrow will show up someplace with the flamethrower and “a Road Warrior car” and instantly be put in charge. Aiden refers to Woodrow as Lord Humongous, after the sadistic leader of the Road Warrior bad guys, which doesn’t bode well for his hypothetical future subjects.
We never see how this scruffy pair can afford the flamethrower, a modified black muscle car (with MEDUSA painted in huge block letters on its sides) or even their rent, since they have no visible means of support. Then again, logic is sort of beside the point here.
You may as well ask why the awkwardly dopey Woodrow proves irresistible not only to a pretty blond named Milly (Jessie Wiseman), who describes him as a “really cool guy,” but also to her beautiful friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes). Woodrow and Milly meet when they compete against each other at a seedy dive bar to see who can eat the most live crickets. Courtney gives a battered and bandaged Woodrow some sexual healing after he catches Milly cheating on him.
Already vaguely disturbing in a life-among-the-underclass fashion, the movie shifts into creepy overdrive when Woodrow gets in a motorcycle accident that leaves him brain damaged. It’s not clear how much of the property destruction, sexual assault and sudden death afterward is real and how much is in Woodrow’s non-linear mind, but some of this is pretty shocking stuff.
Bellflower‘s technical aspects often are achingly amateurish. Many scenes are shot through constellations of specks. A segment in which Woodrow trades an old Volvo with a dashboard whisky dispenser for a motorcycle looks as if someone used an axle-grease-smeared rag to wipe the camera lens. There’s a lot of seasick-making handheld camera work, many too-tight shots, inconsistent focus and a recurring yellow tinge to several scenes.
Acting-wise, Wiseman is much more natural than anyone else in the cast. (She also gets to deliver the movie’s funniest line, describing the drink-dispensing Volvo as “a James Bond car for drunks.”) Brandes is okay, but Glodell and Dawson have trouble making their characters believable. Glodell is much more convincing as the seethingly deranged post-accident Woodrow than as the puppy-love nice guy he’s supposed to be at the beginning of the movie.
Bellflower may have a future as a cult flick that’s sincere enough about being indie-odd to overcome its no-budget drawbacks. It’s clearly ambitious, and even a little pretentious, with more than a half-dozen onscreen chapter titles (“Pursuit of Happiness,” “All Things End,” “In the Darkest Hour,” etc.).
Despite its shortcomings, Bellflower (named for a street in the film) is sufficiently weird in its nightmarish hopelessness to be memorable, which counts for something.