By Matt Smith
An inaction film if ever there was one, Evan Glodell’s debut feature is an engrossing mashup of many a film genre and muscle car construction that spends its final twenty minutes teetering on the brink of excellence before toppling headfirst into a post-apocalyptic landscape of the most dreadful kind: mediocre philosophizing and a poor summarization of what the audience was supposed to have seen in the prior hour’s worth of film. It’s like watching a Christopher Nolan in this regard (big ideas, overly wordy, and not very visual in final execution), though I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film of his fail so spectacularly at providing a coherent narrative and well-pondered denouement while still managing to have something interesting going on in the undercurrents and tucked into its corners.
Bellflower bills itself as an action film, with its IMDB description stating that it’s about two friends who spend all of their time working on a muscle car, “in hopes that a global apocalypse will occur and clear the runway for their imaginary gang “Mother Medusa”. This isn’t an entirely apt description. While there are certainly elements of this going on, and they do in fact build flame throwers and muscle cars, the film’s protagonists Woodrow and Aiden (Glodell and Tyler Dawson) spend most of their time dealing with typical indie flick romance issues. If anything, Bellflower is some unholy lovechild of mumblecore and the Road Warrior movies by way of arthouse fare that probably doesn’t deserve the attention and praise lavished upon it.
For the most part, the cinematography works, but remains problematic because of the odd choice of the filmmakers not to clean the lens of their camera many times while filming, which takes scenes that could hold immense visual beauty and makes them ugly and inconsistent, as the footage is edited throughout into sequences with no dirt or grime taking up space on the frame. This is not to say that there aren’t some lovely images to sink into, but that some interesting ones are lost on the unprofessionalism on display from cinematographer and camera operator Joel Hodge, who, as evidenced by much of the film, is apparently capable of snatching great scenes, but is totally uninterested in making sure one can actually see them. This is disheartening, and only the beginning of where this thing begins to fall apart, piece by piece.
The acting is mostly pretty good, but the scenes and dialogue between Glodell and co-star Dawson almost function as self-parody, with their “witty” repartee and conversational style and tone fluctuating somewhere between daytime soap and what I imagine it might sound like to sit in the middle of a frat house on a random Wednesday when nothing’s going on and every statement has some sort of inquisitive-sounding, but instead oddly mocking upswing in the actual tone of speech. It’s like if no one ever made a statement, but instead statement-questions, if that makes any sense. Imagine this last paragraph read by Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar and I think that’s a pretty good idea of what I’m trying to get at.
Aside from this non-convincing relationship, the rest of the cast (and even these two when not together) turn in some pretty fine performances, particularly the two female leads, Jessie Wiseman and Rebekah Brandes. As the love interests of Woodrow (Milly and Courtney, respectively), they actually provide much of the drama of the film, with Milly’s leaving Woodrow after what is admittedly a pretty great meet-cute/road-trip and series of relationship scenes, and Courtney’s ensuing entanglement with him after a horrific motorcycle accident proving that their is something authentic going on underneath all the machismo about bro-ing around making up a muscle car gang.
Which leads me to the muscle car, the Mother Medusas and all the rest of it: it’s interesting, but goes nowhere. About twenty minutes from the end of the film, the story starts to get darker, and makes some turns that are truly unexpected, violent and looks like it could start the apocalypse, at least for Woodrow and Aiden, a bit early. But then it backtracks and steals the thunder from what was turning into a terrific statement about obsession, violence, relationships, the modern world, genre cinema, and everything else. And really, the car is awesome, and the one time it comes tearing around the corner on the mean path to vengeance and horror, it really gets the blood pumping. Woodrow has gone batshit, and has finally started on the downward spiral that he’s been waiting his whole life for. Then the final statement the film makes by abandoning this series of events and telling us exactly what it’s up to is a total retconning of everything it was so great at setting up in the previous scenes, and it’s a huge disappointment.
I don’t know if the filmmakers were just scared of taking the darker journey, or if they were thinking that a five minute speech at the end that describes the metaphor of Woodrow and the character Lord Humongous from George Miller’s The Road Warrior would be the perfect way to summarize all the thoughts that had apparently been happening in the guy’s head and clue us in to the mystery of…whatever this film was meant to be about. As I said, I found the film engrossing, and was thrilled to see some new genre forming right in front of my eyes. But in the end, when the credits began to roll, it didn’t work for me. It took the discovery of something truly remarkable and made it a simple parlor trick that wasn’t nearly as interesting as the illusion itself. That’s something no good film should ever do.