Sundance review: 'Bellflower' offers up an Apocalyptic vision of love and heartbreak
PARK CITY - One of the very best experiences you can hope to have a festival is when you walk into a theater knowing absolutely nothing about a movie beyond a title and you walk out at the end of it head over heels in love.
Such is the case with me and the wild, gorgeous "Bellflower," a film that's playing here as part of the NEXT showcase, and one which I look forward to arguing about for years to come. It is not an easily or immediately digested film, but I am fairly convinced that it's a special one, and I think writer/director/star/producer/editor Evan Glodell is something of a marvel. This is such a personal, driven, particular film that I'm not sure what to expect from him in the future, but in this case? Thank god he made this film, because no one else could.
"Bellflower" begins with a few quick images of violence and blood and fire, moving backwards, terrible things unhappening for a few moments, and then cuts to black, where we see an opening quote from Lord Humungous. If you don't know who that is, you're probably not a giant fan of "The Road Warrior," aka "Mad Max 2." He's the mostly-naked guy with the hockey mask and the crazy voice who seems to rule over all of the crazy bad guys trying to get into the oil refinery in that film, and since I saw that film in '82, that character has been one of my favorite in any film.
I've always loved the reality of Miller's world. and one of the things that my buddy Scott and I have discussed many times over the years is "What the hell do you think Lord Humungous was doing before the Apocalypse?" Because you know he wasn't walking around half-naked in a hockey mask with a gimp on a leash. All of that was a choice AFTER things went down. Obviously, though, he was wired for this new world, and ready, and he ended up in charge. I love that. He goes from being the UPS guy or working in some warehouse or whatever to riding around with an army of lunatics in souped-up cars. That's gotta be some kind of story, right?
Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are childhood friends who have been obsessed with Lord Humungous and "Mad Max 2" and the Apocalypse since childhood. Their greatest dream is to become Lord Humungous when and if the shit goes down. They talk about what they would need to establish rulership of the wasteland, and as the film opens, they are finally starting to build the crazy flamethrower and the pumped-up custom muscle car that they will need to start their gang of road warriors, the "Mother Medusas." It's part joke, part distraction from the emptiness of their lives. Woodrow is painfully shy, the mechanical genius of the two, nerdy and awkward, and Aiden is the outspoken party animal, and together, they pretty much exist without the rest of the world.
Then one night, at a local bar, they meet Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), and everything changes.
Milly is this provocative tough girl, big curves and big personality, and she and Woodrow hit it off immediately. She's charmed by his awkwardness, finds him cute and safe, and he's overwhelmed by her sexual energy and her absolutely lack of fear of anything. He asks her on a date that ends up turning into a road trip, and there's a big stretch of the film that's just about the way the relationship between Woodrow and Milly starts to take hold. It's lovely work by everyone, and the film is sweet and very funny. For a while.
This isn't a healthy world, though. The intense co-dependence between Woodrow and Aiden is just as tense as the relationship between Milly and Courtney, and this new relationship threatens that world order. Plus, there's a hint of violence in the air, always ready to ignite at the strike of a match, and while Woodrow's sheepish exterior is sort of adorable, there's something else simmering just below the surface in him as well. Just how much of this fantasy life he and Aiden share is serious is something that only gradually comes into focus. Glodell seems to be a bit of a real-life mechanical genius. Not only did he build all the working flamethrowers in the film, which are flat-out pyromaniac wet dream awesome, but he also built the muscle cars and the cameras they actually used to make the film. The entire thing has a hand-crafted aesthetic, right down to the dirt-filled lenses used in certain scenes, that makes this feel like we're not just watching a movie about Woodrow… we're in his head. Seeing it from behind his eyes.
And when things go bad? Oh, man, do they go bad.
I've never seen a film I can easily compare "Bellflower" to, and I love that. I guarantee I won't hear the sentence, "Oh, that? It's exactly like 'Bellflower'" even once while I'm up here this week. It is so obviously a film that comes from a personal place that part of me doesn't ever want to meet the people behind it because I want them to just exist in this one crazy film, and the other part of me wants to meet Glodell immediately just to shake his hand and ask him to spare me when the Apocalypse arrives.
I have no idea what distributors will make of "Bellflower." I hope Tim League gets a look at it, because this would be an amazing pick-up for Drafthouse Films, and if Tim and Glodell hit the road to promote the movie in the actual muscle cars, stopping in each town for a flamethrower demo, I might have to quit my job and follow them like the Grateful Dead.
So, yeah. "Bellflower"? Loved it.
So let's get started on Sundance Day Two. Day One rocked me, and I couldn't be happier about it.