Bellflower (2011)


USA. 2011.


Director/Screenplay – Evan Glodell, Producers – Evan Glodell & Vincent Grashaw, Photography – Joel Hodge, Music/Songs – Jonathan Keevil, Additional Score – Kevin MacLeod, Production Design – Team Coatwolf. Production Company – Coatwolf Productions


Evan Glodell (Woodrow), Tyler Dawson (Aiden), Jessie Wiseman (Milly), Rebekah Brandes (Courtney), Vincent Grashaw (Mike)


Woodrow and Aiden are best friends who have moved to California after growing up together in Wisconsin. Both are obsessed with the film ‘Mad Max 2’ and the character of the villain Lord Humongous. They are determined that when the apocalypse comes, they want to have a badass car that can dominate the wasteland. They spend their time customising vehicles and trying to build the ultimate flamethrower. Woodrow meets Milly after both enter a bug-eating competition in a bar and asks her out. On inspiration, they decide to drive to Texas for their first date. After settling into a relationship with Milly, Woodrow is shattered to walk in and find her having sex with her roommate Mike. Distraught, he drives away on his motorcycle – only to be hit by an oncoming vehicle. Recovering in the aftermath, Woodrow’s mental state begins to fragment and become darker and more violent as he seeks to use the custom weapons they have built to take an apocalyptic revenge.

Bellflower represents a directorial debut for Evan Glodell, a newcomer director, who was thirty-one at the time he made the film. For Glodell, much of the film is autobiographical. As with the lead character (which he also plays), he moved to Los Angeles from Madison, Wisconsin. He also spent much of his childhood tinkering with gadgets and himself built many of the items used in the film, including a homemade flamethrower and the camera on which the film (which was shot put together from used parts). Not to mention custom-fitting the 1972 Buick Skylark that becomes the film’s Medusa car, which is an actual working vehicle with belching flame jets (something that Glodell also uses as his own personal vehicle and apparently drove to the festivals where Bellflower was playing). He based the script on a personal relationship breakup he underwent. (The title incidentally refers to the municipal district of Los Angeles where the film takes place). He is also a huge fan of Mad Max 2 (1981).

Bellflower is a film not dissimilar to other works about fandom such as Fanboys (2008) and perhaps most closely Free Enterprise (1998), which has a similar plot that follows two childhood friends and how one’s involvement with a girl causes a rift between them. Of course, the major difference is that these other two are bittersweet comedies whereas Bellflower takes everything into seriously dark and disturbed mental space.

One finds it initially hard to relate to characters who use the phrase “awesome” with as much enthusiasm as Glodell and Tyler Dawson do. It is hard to get a handle on the characters – all of them seem to exist in a bubble in terms of motivation (it is never clear why Jessie Wiseman sleeps with Vincent Grashaw, for instance). Nobody in the film ever seems to engage in any type of gainful employment. The nearest we come to this is when Evan Glodell is asked by Jessie Wiseman what he does when they first meet, to which his response is “I’m building a flamethrower.”

Directorially, Evan Glodell has a serious mumblecore thing going. This is a film that wears its low-tech and grungy look as a badge of pride so much so that it even leaves in several scenes that are shot with dirt caked over the camera lens. Out of this, the film evinces an undeniable authenticity. The scenes with Evan Glodell and Jessie Wiseman on their road trip have a naturalistic, fresh-faced innocence to the romance.

The film absorbs us in the romance and the playing out of the two character’s interactions. This goes well enough but the real strength of Bellflower comes during Evan Glodell’s descent into a disturbed mental space following the break-up. This culminates in a dream sequence that goes on for some ten minutes, involving a rampage of violence, murder and his driving through the streets in the Medusa car belching jets of flame out its massive exhaust ports. The rawness of some of the violence and psychology that goes on here is astonishing – few other films dare to psychologically delve into such a dark space and give free reign to it on the screen.

There is a stunning point where [PLOT SPOILERS] Bellflower reverses the apocalyptic plot arc that it seems to be going on and reveals that the deaths and murder are all just a dream. The film then goes out on a stunning mundane coda where the two friends Evan Glodell and Tyler Dawson reunite and drive off into the desert in their super-charged custom car and this becomes a triumphant amelioration of hurt feelings. Here in voiceover, Glodell talks about how Lord Humongous, Mad Max 2‘s masked, muscle-builder villain, is their idol and aspiration in terms of badassery, of taking no shit and of ruling with attitude. It is a beautiful reversal, although one cannot help but think as we go out watching the two of them shooting guns and flamethrowers in the desert in triumph that it is an undeniably fucked-up form of climactic triumph. After all, there is a teensy part of one that thinks fantasies of murder and violence, regarding oneselves as the ultimate badasses, shooting guns and flamethrowers and promising to take no shit from anybody might not be too far removed from the thoughts that went through the minds of Eric Harris and Dylan Kleblold as they walked into Columbine high school in 1999 with an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and bombs made out of propane canisters.

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