Judge Adam Arseneau is, in fact, Lord Humongous.
"Dude, it's like a James Bond car for drunks!"
A hazy mix of muscle cars, apocalyptic visions, romantic drama, and Generation Y slacking, Bellflower is stylish, sinister, and outrageously unique. A superb debut from a first-time filmmaker, Bellflower (Blu-ray) is one of the most surprising films of 2011.
Facts of the Case
Woodrow (Evan Glodell) spends his days preparing for the apocalypse with his friend Aiden. Having watched Mad Max a few times too many, they build muscle cars and homemade flamethrowers in preparation of an upcoming global catastrophe. Although light on details, they are passionate and committed to their cause—until Woodrow meets the charismatic and beautiful Milly (Jessie Wiseman). The two strike up a whirlwind romance and Woodrow falls in love, hard.
When the relationship ends badly, Woodrow is left broken. Consumed with rage and confused by his feelings, his grip on reality—already tenuous at best—snaps. Apocalyptic fantasies give way to delusions, then terrible violence.
In terms of sheer bang-for-buck, Bellflower may be the most impressive indie film ever made. Watching the film, you would never guess that the film had such a startlingly low budget. Its $17,000 barely buys an automobile, let alone a two-hour feature film. First-time filmmaker Evan Glodell writes, produces, directs, and stars as the protagonist, which automatically makes him an odious and disgusting human being. Normal mortals cannot exceed like this without making some serious Faustian bargains. If you see him on the street, run away. He's the Devil. No one can be this good.
The rampaging male aggression of Bellflower have drawn critical comparisons to Fight Club, but the film bears more resemblance in tone and style to David Ayer's Harsh Times, another film about beer-swilling bros who quickly lose their grip on reality and descend into madness and aggression. The men in Bellflower are perpetually stuck in an endless, irritating Generation Y cycle of zero responsibilities, zero prospects, copious amounts of alcohol, and unfocused energy. In Aiden's and Woodrow's case, they use it to prepare for the impending apocalypse, as predicted by Mad Max—and when you mix insecurity, alcohol, and homemade flamethrowers, bad things happen.
The endearing charm of the first two acts suddenly gives way to the third act, a lumbering behemoth of anger, violence, alcohol, fire-breathing cars, and poor decision making. You see it coming, but the descent is near-endless. You cannot predict the scope of it—the all-consuming immolation, the nihilism. Bellflower throws a mean sucker punch. You cannot help but admire the sheer audacity of its vision. The end result is haunting and lingering.
Take out the flamethrowers and the apocalyptic delusions and the root of Bellflower is relatively straightforward: boys have fun together, and then boy meet girl. Everything is okay for a while, until it isn't. Then everything goes to hell. The world ends, at least for the protagonist Woodrow, and it is a gut-wrenching descent into chaos and disorder; a strangely perverse male fantasy of rampant destruction and self-immolation. A raging manifesto of masculine insecurity and rage—charming one moment, terrifying the next, always unsure how to deal with its excess—Bellflower is a powerful film. Gender studies scholars are going to have a field day with this one.
Forget about the writing and the directing for a moment. As an actor, Evan Glodell is a rising star. Goofy and gallant, brooding and pensive, cruel and violent in equal parts, he is a surprisingly capable actor—and he can build a freaking flamethrower, ladies. If that doesn't translate into a big career, nothing will. He is equally adept at charming romantic banter as he is at dangerous, dead-eyed Christian Bale-esque stares. Jessie Wiseman is magnificent as Milly, the female foil to Woodrow; a complicated yet wholly believable construct of a beer-swilling, on-the-edge female who promises ruin and destruction to any man who takes her on.
Bellflower (Blu-ray) is a combo pack; you get Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film, each on its own disc. On the Blu-ray version, the film is presented in a tight 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer with a dreamlike, hazy, and heavily saturated color palate. Glodell is a guy who built his own flamethrower and fire-breathing car for the movie, so you had to know he would extend his tinkering talent to the cinematography. Assembled from bits of other cameras, Glodell created a Frankenstein machine capable of extreme color and light manipulations that give Bellflower its wholly unique ethereal style. Yellows and browns give the film a sense of combustion, of heat and madness and corruption. It is a perplexing transfer, one not easily critiqued, so deliberately tweaked and saturated and covered in flecks of dirt and mud, with peculiar focus distances that deliberately leave part of the frame unfocused, and on and on. Suffice it to say, it suits the film perfectly. You've never seen a film quite like it.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is atmospheric, with strong bass response and a throbbing soundtrack that swells and undulates in time with the dramatic tension. Dialogue is clear throughout. A few rough audio moments here and there are not distracting, but simply reinforce the film's low-budget origins. A PCM 2.0 Stereo track is also included and serves as a respectable stand-in, but lacks the wonderfully atmospheric depth of the DTS-HD track.
Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, a making of the hand-built car featurette, outtakes, and an original theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To the increasing alarm and panic of my editors, writing this review took me much longer than average. I found it hard to articulate in a critical fashion, because it struck a weird nerve somewhere in my psyche. Talking to others who have seen the film, a few had similar experiences, in which they loved the film, but it unsettled them tremendously.
I fully expect Bellflower will divide audiences like an axe. A lot of people are going to dislike the film for exactly the same reasons why others will adore it—but the sheer audacity of it is amazing in of itself.
Bellflower is living proof that a first-time filmmaker can make a cheap film that knocks the socks off of every other Hollywood production in the same calendar year. Love it or hate it, this is a must-see film.
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