Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are a pair of lifelong friends who spend their time in their garages, coming up with some new device, mainly those that explode. After a normal day shotgunning propane canisters, the two head to a local bar, where Woodrow is roped into a cricket eating contest against Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a blonde who catches Woodrow's eye immediately. What starts as awkward bar chatter turns into a date, and the date turns into a relationship. Unfortunately, like Woodrow and Aiden's inventions, however, the relationship -- and Woodrow's life -- are about to blow up.
Bellflower is an angry movie. Even the cinematography by Joel Hodge is angry, with its colors cranked up in contrast and frequently blown out. Glodell, also the film's writer/director, is determined to explore the truly dark and disturbing parts of that anger, the parts that, if you were the one feeling this way, would disturb others if you told them about it, even if they had once felt the same way. Without giving away too many details about the movie's second half, the relationship between Woodrow and Milly results in a chain of events that appears to destroy Woodrow, both physically and emotionally. Not only does he become a black void of toxic, seething hatred, there are times during the second half of the movie where it's hard not to be worry he won't just drop dead.
What's most effective about Glodell's direction is his grasp of tone. In the movie's first half, the world seems like a bright and inviting place, the mood is light, and everything seems so carefree and unimportant. All Woodrow and Aiden have on their plate is the construction of a flamethrower; the kind of weekend project teenagers might plot during summer vacation. Later, as Woodrow's life spirals out of control, it's as if the world constricts; Woodrow's apartment shrinks to one dark room, where he sits and stares into space. When Aiden decides to try and cheer Woodrow up by making good on a promise to build the "Medusa," a flame-spitting Buick Skylark loosely modeled after the car Mad Max drives in The Road Warrior, it feels like the act of an adult trying somewhat desperately to recapture innocence or youth. As cool as the car is, one gets the sense that Woodrow can only look at it and think of all the aspects of his life that are gone forever rather than the achievement of a life-long dream.
For an independent film, the performances are all pretty good. Glodell's "nice" version of Woodrow is overly hesitant and unassertive, to the point of being mildly annoying, but when things take a turn for the worse, the brooding, hateful side of his performance is frighteningly convincing. Dawson gets in a few sucker-punches (such as the "I liked her too" moment fellow DVDTalker Jason Bailey mentions in his review), and Wiseman is appealing enough, but special mention must be made of Rebekah Brandes. As Milly's forgotten best friend Courtney, she navigates the most complicated emotional journey in the movie: losing her best friend to indifference, then discovering her new relationship may end up the same way, thanks to the same person.
Concern arose on Twitter as to whether Bellflower endorses some of the things its characters do, specifically whether the audience is supposed to side with Woodrow's increasingly unhealthy mindset. Although people may understand where Woodrow is coming from, I have a hard time believing they or the movie see Woodrow in a positive light. The film contains dark material, and the characters do some terrible things, but Glodell doesn't present it as any less awful than it is. The primary emotional strands of Glodell's screenplay are that of regret, self-conscious self-pity, and that ever-present anger, which aggressively tries to flare farther than Woodrow's own life and into others'. It's a psychological romantic horror story, tinged with tragedy, and you feel sorry for the characters not for what has happened to them, but where they've decided to go.
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