SXSW FILM FESTIVAL
SXSW: Harsh Nukes of Love and Loss Craft the Sensational 'Bellfower'
by Jeremy Kirk
March 16, 2011
The phrase "apocalypted my mind" is one that comes to your senses while watching, studying, and mulling over Bellflower, the first film written and directed by Evan Glodell. There's not much sense to be made out of the phrase. The red dotted line underneath the word "" as it is being written indicates it's not even an acceptable word. That doesn't mean it's not apropos for this film that blasts its way into your memory banks, slaps you silly, and doesn't even both to clean up afterwards. To put it frankly, Bellflower is a monster of a success. A film about friendship, love, loss, and the power we place on the moments that define us, it mesmerizes you with breathtaking imagery, spectacular characters, and one of the meanest most badass cars you're likely to see this side of George Miller.
To even go through a synopsis might dampen the impact Bellflower might have. Woodrow and Aiden, played by Glodell and Tyler Dawson, respectively, are friends living in California. They're obsessed with the potentiality of an end-of-the-known-world scenario, the kind of event that turns the world into The Road Warrior overnight. There's a flamethrower. There's a truly awesome car named Mother Medusa. Then there's Milly, played by Jessie Wiseman, the girl Woodrow has recently began seeing. Needless to say, a nuke is about to be dropped on everything, but you'll have to see for yourself to determine if that is literal or figurative.
Glodell gives the film a hard crust and a soft center. At least at first. Aided by Joel Hodge's staggering cinematography, the film looks like it's been through its fair share of bar brawls, as if the film stock itself is drenched in whiskey and ready to dish out a couple of black eyes. It's a harsh look, one that indicates well where Woodrow and Aiden's minds are at. These are friends who are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best, and their relationship, as well as the relationship Glodell builds between Woodrow and Milly, is both realistic and charming. You get to know these characters, come to embrace their bonds, and then the figurative bomb drops.
Once that occurs, once a deafening crash shocks Woodrow's life, Bellflower begins its slow descent into the character's mind. We begin to realize we've been seeing this world through his mind all along, another indication of the unnerving and rough tones, and it isn't pretty. The directions Bellflower goes in the last half are brutal, more than a little divisive, and play out with all the subtlety of strident squeals of rubber racing on sweltering blacktop. Coming from the protagonist's viewpoint indicates nuance isn't even needed. There isn't any subtlety in the end of the world. There shouldn't be. Woodrow's life, one obsessed with apocalyptic imagery, plays with a bang. A whimper is never, nor should it be, even considered.
The entire cast is spectacular. Glodell elicits innocence in the looks he gives through Woodrow, the charm he puts into trying to impress Wiseman's tough-as-pavement Milly on their first date. There's a pain underneath, one that explodes into a flash fire once the turning point comes, and Glodell's shift in Woodrow is harrowing. He's a man who has been broken in more ways than a few. Glodell puts that feeling into every look, every line of dialogue, and every action he gives through his character.
Dawson's character plays second fiddle to Woodrow, but the actor projects so much with minimal effort in Aiden. Here is a man who feels he is losing his best friend, who would do anything for it to be just the two of them taking on the entire world, but with an understanding of who his friend is and who he wants to be. It's not that he's just a supplemental entity playing off Woodrow, either. Glodell has crafted a perfectly fleshed out character in Aiden, and Dawson brings the character to life with a grounded and likable performance.
But that word "likable" is as unfamiliar to Bellflower as the word "apocalypted" is to Merriam-Webster. It's not trying to be likable. It's a harsh look at young love, the atomic bombs that go off when things don't go as planned, and the post-apocalyptic aftermath that could easily ensue if you allow it to. Told through a dusty and brutally emphatic prism, Bellflower is about the nukes that go off in our mind and the dominance we reign with in our own barren wastelands. If only we had a Mother Medusa to burn our enemies.
Jeremy's SXSW Rating: 9 out of 10