WEBTAKES: Bellflower
Reviewed by Robert Cashill

Produced by Evan Glodell and Vincent Grashaw; directed by Evan Glodell; written by Evan Glodell; cinematography by Joel Hodge; production design by Team Coatwolf; edited by Evan Glodell, Vincent Grashaw, Joel Hodge, and Jonathan Keevil; music by Jonathan Keevil and Kevin MacLeod; starring Evan Glodell, Jessie Wiseman, Tyler Dawson, Rebekah Brandes, and Vincent Grashaw. Color, 106 min. An Oscilloscope Pictures release, www.oscilloscope.net.

Cinephilia can be a dangerous thing. Just ask the teens in Super 8, who, while making their own Romero-esque zombie movie, run afoul of an escaped alien. Enthralled by the postapocalyptic car culture of Mad Max (a movie that came out in 1979, about when Super 8 is set), worse befalls the twentysomethings in Bellflower, as they careen into madness, arson, and murder.

Or something like that. Evan Glodell’s debut, a hit at the Sundance and South by Southwest Film Festivals, opens with a quote from the Lord Humongous, the goalie-masked villain of The Road Warrior, so I may as well start there, too, to decipher the movie. Woodrow (Glodell, who wore many hats on the production) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson), Wisconsin natives who decamped to southern California for nebulous reasons (“We’ve never even been to the beach”) have since adolescence fantasized about their cult of two, “Mother Medusa,” which is primed to take charge of a world in chaos. But it’s no idle daydream. The pair owns a sawed-off shotgun and have built their own muscle car, “Medusa,” from which they’ll reign. And Aiden scours an industrial supply store on Bellflower Avenue for spare parts to complete its most awesome accessory—a working flamethrower.

The DIY facet of the film is appealingly autobiographical, with Medusa very much a part of the cast, like the outrageously themed cars of Death Race 2000 (1975) or the “Deathmobile” in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). Glodell is a gearhead, and he and his filmmaking band of brothers (“Team Coatwolf”) hand-built the cars and machinery seen in the movie, plus the custom-rigged digital camera used to shoot it. Here Glodell and Mad Max maker George Miller, a classicist, part ways; Miller would surely have removed the flecks of dirt that periodically stray onto the lens, while Glodell simply goes with the smudged look. Given that the first part of Bellflower is as much Jackass as Thunderdome, it works.

While waiting for the end, Woodrow and Aiden pass some of their time at a local dive bar. Participating in a cricket-eating contest (not the usual “meet cute”) Woodrow is defeated by the fearless Milly (Jessie Wiseman), who is nonetheless charmed by him and his boyhood obsessions. On their first date the two head for Texas, to experience as a couple the worst restaurant in which Woodrow ever ate (Milly’s idea) and drink from Medusa’s dashboard whiskey dispenser. Glodell’s self-admitted winging it as an actor is balanced by Wiseman’s beguiling directness as a performer, and this is the movie’s most charming interlude.

It doesn’t last long. Their insecurity and dependency issues get the better of them, while Aiden, as jealous as a spurned lover, fumes on the sidelines. As Woodrow goes into psychological free-fall over his sputtering relationships and bear-hugs his inner Humongous, the already grungy movie deteriorates into jump cuts and chronological jumbles. The violence implicit in the premise rears its ugly head, and Glodell doesn’t shy away from showing its allure. While Woodrow may not actually go to all of the extremes depicted, that his judgment is so polluted by a fantasy sense of justice and retribution is troubling. On some level Medusa has turned both these unassuming men into stone.

That said the movie isn’t a tract on violence. What it is, exactly, is hard to pinpoint—though it’s one of the most intriguing movies around, at once knife-edged and tender, ablaze with flaming imagery and a thrashing soundtrack, and more ambitious than films with far greater resources at their disposal. It put me in mind of last summer’s comic fantasy,Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, where multiple levels of videogame-inspired aggression stand between the title character and his true love. Both have a sweetness that underlies the pop-culture mayhem. That had a sunnier outcome, however. Cinephilia can be a dangerous thing, Bellflower suggests, but not so dangerous as love.

Robert Cashill, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, is a Cineaste Associate and the Film Editor of Popdose.com.

Copyright © 2011 by Cineaste Magazine.