Back during this year’s SXSW, I saw a number of excellent films, stuff that I walked out of the festival absolutely raving about: Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block, James Wan’s Insidious, and James Gunn’s Super, just to name a few. But the most challenging, disturbing, and—yeah, I’m gonna say it– haunting film that I saw at SXSW this year was made by a total newcomer, a dude I hadn’t heard of prior to this year’s festivities: Evan Glodell, whose Bellflower continues to rock my lame ass every time I see it. The film recently arrived on Blu-ray, and so I was given yet another opportunity to ponder Glodell’s bizarre vision. Did it hold up upon a fourth viewing? Does the crystal-clear Blu-ray format ruin the flick’s down-and-dirty aesthetic? Is Bellflower still one of the best films I’ve seen this year? Find out after the jump, folks.
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: there’s a really good chance that you won’t like Bellflower. But there’s also a chance that you’re going to love Bellflower. I wouldn’t say you have an equal chance of falling into either group—the lovers or the detractors—but I will say this: if you’ve suspected that Bellflower might be up your alley, you owe it to yourself to see the film. Worst case scenario, it’s not for you. Best case scenario, you’ll discover what I consider one of the year’s best films.
Bellflower’s dark, challenging, blackly comic (not in the Wayans sense of the word), thought-provoking, and has an incredibly unique visual style. It’s also uncomfortable to watch, has a bit of a cop-out ending, and won’t deliver the (literally) apocalyptic moments you might be expecting based on the film’s advertising. Either you’ll go along with what Glodell’s done here or you won’t, but I’ll promise you this: I’d be very surprised if you claimed to be bored at any point during the film. This is the kinda flick where something’s always happening, even if it’s something ominous that’s unfolding just below the surface of things.
In Bellflower, Woodrow (played by Glodell, who does a damn fine job walking the line between “overly earnest” and “terrifyingly enraged”) and his friend Aidan (Tyler Dawson, who walks the line between “hipster douche” and “loyal best friend” with equal success) are two roustabout twentysomethings with a deep and abiding love for Mad Max. Specifically, they love Lord Humongous, the ski-masked barbarian who leads a ragtag group of apocalypse-survivors in that film. Woodrow and Aidan spend an inordinate amount of time constructing elaborate tools of destruction—a flame-shooting car, a flamethrower, and so on—and talk about their plans to rule over the wastelands once the apocalypse comes and goes. They’re kind of dumb, but they’re well-meaning. They’re also the kind of friends who’d do anything for one another, up to and including extreme acts of violence.
Into this rosy little picture comes Milly (newcomer Jessie Wiseman, who makes a helluva impression), a girl Woodrow has a meet-cute with at a local bar. It’s not just any meet-cute, however: this one happens during a grasshopper-eating contest (side note: when the film played SXSW, the Alamo Drafthouse held its own grasshopper-eating contest, which—as you’ve probably already guessed—Drafthouse owner Tim League won by a landslide). Milly seems like a strange match for Woodrow in the beginning, but soon enough we see that both of their eccentricities match up quite nicely: on their first date, the two decide—on the spur of the moment—to drive all the way from California to Texas in order to eat in the world’s “scariest restaurant”.
I’ll tell you that Woodrow and Milly’s relationship doesn’t work out, and I’ll tell you that things get really, really ugly before this thing wraps up, but I’d rather leave the plot at that. You only get to experience a film like Bellflower once, and it really is the kind of film you should walk into with as little information as possible: there are a few surprises here, and while there’s no “twist” to the ending (or any other startling revelations), the turns that the film’s script takes on its way from A to B are very compelling.
The film feels enormously personal, and—based on what I’ve read, and from what I gathered when I interviewed Glodell earlier this year—it is. This is the break-up film to end all break-up films, a sort-of revenge fantasy for anyone that’s ever had their heart shattered by someone they poured all their hope, love, and trust into. The things that happen to Woodrow (and Milly, and Aidan, and Milly’s friends, and so on) are horrific and hyper-real—the kinda things that might happen in a movie, but would almost certainly not happen in real life without anyone ending up in prison—but the truth at the heart of all that horror and violence is universal: even if your ex-girlfriend (or boyfriend, if that’s your thing) never took a flamethrower to your belongings, you’ll still recognize the sentiment behind all those flames.
Because it’s so personal, it’s also difficult to watch. Nevermind the fact that you might recognize some of the pain being projected onscreen: it’s also very uncomfortable to see Glodell pouring his heart out like this. Bellflower isn’t a “feel-good” movie, and you won’t be smiling when the credits roll. You might, however, find yourself incapable of shaking the flick for days after you’ve seen it (something I’ve experienced with each new viewing), and you might be inclined to revisit the film to figure out some of the script’s more oblique moments after you spend some time pondering it. I’ve seen Bellflower four times now, and it still feels fresh and alive.
The Blu-ray comes with a few extras, but the overall package loses points for leaving out a few things I would’ve considered crucial. You’ll get the following: the film presented in 1080p with DTS-HD surround sound; a “Behind The Scenes of Bellflower” featurette featuring the cast and crew; an in-depth look at the film’s car (and official poster-child), Mother Medusa; a series of outtakes from the set; and the ever-present theatrical trailer (which is quite good, and good for showing to people you want to convince to watch the film with you). But there’s no commentary here, and given the intense personal nature of the film and the vague third act, that would seem like a kind of no-brainer inclusion. I won’t go so far as to say that Oscilloscope and Glodell dropped the ball here (oh, one other thing: the packaging itself is unique, too: it’s cardboard, a tri-fold sorta deal that looks really cool once it’s all opened up), but I will say that I’m very disappointed in the lack of a commentary.
I’ve spent no small amount of time debating Bellflower with others since the film debuted at SXSW, and I’d say that 60% of the people I’ve spoken to have loved the film unreservedly. The other 40% tend to “hate” the film, citing the “cop-out ending” and the “disturbing” nature of the film’s third act as their chief reasons for disliking Glodell’s film. This isn’t the sort of movie that I’d recommend to just anybody, but given Collider.com’s audience—which is a lot more thoughtful, mature, and open to new things than some film-site communities I could think of– I feel comfortable making that recommendation here. You might not end up loving Bellflower as much as I do, but I guarantee you won’t see another film like it any time soon. It really is a one-of-a-kind thing.
My grade? A (would’ve been higher with a commentary, but I’m sure they’ll get over the “A” rating)