I have to admit that I wasn’t ready for Bellflower. Even if I had read the many positive reviews, I’m still not sure I’d have been ready for Bellflower. Even now, I find myself doubtful that I can write a blog entry that could adequately prepare my readers for this movie. Yet at the same time, as a male of my generation, I feel obligated to write an account of what I’ve seen and to spread the word of this movie’s existence.
I may as well start with the premise. The movie starts with two guys named Woodrow (Evan Glodell, also the writer/director/co-producer/co-editor) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson). They’re childhood friends who grew up in the Midwest and moved to California just because they thought it would be a cool thing to do. Though neither of them appear to have any means of income, they work together on a lifelong dream: Building a muscle car that shoots fire, christened “Medusa.”
The idea, as explained in a voice-over at the movie’s start, is that when the apocalypse comes, the last person anyone will want to screw with will be the guy with a badass car and a flamethrower. Did I mention that they got this idea by repeatedly watching Mad Max as kids?
Anyway, they go to some dive bar that routinely challenges its customers to crazy stunts. This time, it’s a live cricket-eating contest for a $50 gift card to “some crappy restaurant.” Woodrow is pushed into participating, and promptly loses against the beautiful Milly (Jessie Wiseman). They hit it off and head out to dinner the next night, but Milly doesn’t want to go anyplace fancy. Instead, she wants to see the most disgusting diner that Woodrow knows of. That it’s in Texas doesn’t even faze her.
To sum up, these characters are loud, uneducated, impulsive, horny, drunken, cynical, unemployed, and eager to do stupid and self-destructive shit just for the thrills. Basically, they’re everything about my generation that I hate.
Having said that, these characters aren’t necessarily unsympathetic. They aren’t overtly malicious, after all, just stupid and in constant need of excitement. It also helps that they aren’t building weapons for any harmful purposes, but just because they like seeing things blow up. And be honest: If you had the chance to actually build a black muscle car that shot fire out the exhaust pipe, tell me you wouldn’t be all over that shit. And therein lies the crux of the film.
It becomes clear very early on that these characters worship a ridiculous over-masculine ideal that’s become popular with this generation. The kind of man who can beat anyone in a fight, blow anything up, dominate women and have them thank him for it, etc. This archetype is called “Lord Humungous,” presumably because the filmmakers didn’t want to risk a lawsuit from Chuck Norris.
Of course, this ideal is strictly a fantasy for children, which is something that our characters completely fail to realize. These characters — both male and female — are nothing but id, capable of nothing but such primal joys as sex and violence. They’re all energy and no direction, which means that the energy inevitably turns inward. They gradually tear themselves and each other apart, in a sequence of self-destruction that builds to a bloody, tragic, traumatic climax for all involved.
…Or does it?
See, though the movie’s story is mostly told in chronological order, there are a select few times when it isn’t. In fact, the film may cut back to an event earlier in the film and keep going to show us something we didn’t see the first time. This may lead to a new series of events that will contradict the first one, and this happens especially often after the climax. As such, it’s left open to interpretation exactly what really happened and what was all in Woodrow’s head. Though as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter much either way.
Regardless of whether or not the climax actually happens or if Woodrow just imagined it in such gruesome detail, the point still stands: This character’s mind has been irreparably warped. He’s been surrounded for all his life by overtly violent and sexual media, not to mention peer pressure and the glamorization of stupid YouTube stunts, but he didn’t have the moral or mental capacity to filter that shit out. He became what he beheld, only to discover — either through imagination or through action — just how devastating that mindset is when applied to the real world.
Or maybe that’s just my interpretation. Who knows?
The film is quite interesting on a technical level, as the filmmakers appear to have done everything in their power toward making this movie look ugly. The film stock looks like it was soaked in piss, the film is grainy and scratched throughout, and the lens looks like it’s been smeared in several places. It’s distracting to say the least, but it helps portray a subtle condemnation of the characters. Because their actions are ugly, you see, the film is ugly. It helps to know that though the characters may be somewhat likeable, the film never expects us to think of them as heroes or role models.
Having said that, these actors all do fine jobs of portraying their roles. It’s worth stressing yet again that these characters aren’t easy to completely dislike, in spite of how stupid and reckless they can be, and a lot of that is due to these actors. Special kudos are due to Jessie Wiseman and Rebekah Brandes, the two female leads. It’s staggering how these women can go from charming beauties to ugly bitches and back again.
As for the screenplay, it’s worth noting that shit never really hits the fan until the halfway point. On the one hand, this allows a sufficient amount of time to develop these characters and establish the relationships between them, making it that much more painful when the relationships are destroyed. On the other hand, this destruction is the centerpiece of the plot, which means that the story effectively stalls for half the film.
Having said that, I personally thought that Bellflower was a very good movie. It’s clear that a lot of time and talent went into this — especially with regards to the writing, directing and action — for such a tiny independent film. Still, this certainly isn’t an easy movie to watch. Though the film does have romance and comedy and stuff blowing up, it also has rape, suicide, murder, and arson.
Nevertheless, I do believe that this movie very effectively works as a dark mirror held up against everyone of my age. We’re the generation who grew up believing that a crazy YouTube video and/or a reality show deal is all it takes to reach fame and fortune. We’re the generation that actively looks forward to the end of the world and fantasizes about what we’d do if it ever came. We’re the generation that can access any number of explicitly violent and sexual media with the touch of a button. And lest we forget, we’re the generation that was raised with a broken education system and came into a world without jobs to offer.
If anything in that last paragraph resonated with you, then you absolutely must see this movie. Don’t consider it a glimpse of the future, but as a cautionary tale.