Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are lifelong friends who spend their time in their garages, always tweaking and testing some device designed to explode or destroy. After an average day shooting propane tanks with shotguns, the two head to a local bar, where Woodrow is roped into a cricket eating contest against Milly (Jessie Wiseman), who catches Woodrow's eye immediately. What starts as awkward bar chatter turns into a date, and the date turns into a relationship. Jump forward a few months, and Woodrow's life is beginning to collapse around him, and beneath his mawkish exterior, there's a hatred bubbling up as explosive as one of his inventions.
Bellflower is a poisonous scream of a movie, full of bile and anger and resentment. Glodell, also the film's writer/director, stages the destruction of Woodrow's relationship with Milly (and his growing distance from others around him) with the same gravity as the apocalypse. It's a simple parallel, and the resulting film isn't traditionally "enjoyable," but Glodell is willing and ready to go farther than some movies would, and there's an honesty about that darkness, and the way it brings up a queasy feeling in the pit of the viewer's stomach.
Much of Woodrow's descent into darkness is a study in contrasts. On his first date with Milly, which takes him all the way from California to Texas, he trades his car for a motorcycle. It's a fun, spontaneous decision that will eventually take an extreme toll, multiplying its symbolism as a part of his destroyed relationship. Glodell initially plays Woodrow with a wimpy timidness that borders on being frustrating, then transforms him with a terrifying undercurrent of spite and vengeance. Even Woodrow's physical health does a complete 180: at first, he appears vibrant and healthy; later on, it's hard not to worry he won't drop dead at any second. The film's world and activities constrict; at first, the only project on Woodrow and Aiden's plate is the construction of a flamethrower, the kind of weekend project teenagers might plot during summer vacation, and their tests cover the length of a wide open field and light up the night sky. Later, it's as if Woodrow's universe has shriveled into a single dark room with a TV and a mattress, where he sits and stares into space, his head filled with fractured, morbid thoughts, and Joel Hodge's cinematography goes from bright and inviting to angry and oppressive, with impenetrable blacks and blooming, burning whites.
In terms of the performances, Dawson can be a little obnoxious as Aiden, but it feels realistic and helps to highlight his quieter moments, like his painfully matter-of-fact, "I liked her too" moment (which fellow DVDTalker Jason Bailey mentions in his review), and the way he desperately tries to engage the old Woodrow with the aggressive construction of another mechanical dream, a flame-spitting, futuristic Buick Skylark dubbed "Medusa." Wiseman's role gets a little short-changed in the second half, when Glodell focuses more on Woodrow, but she navigates the tricky task of giving Milly spark without coming off too "Manic Pixie Dream Girl." Special mention must also be made of Rebekah Brandes, who navigates her character's complicated emotional journey (her loyalty to her best friend Milly, the pleasant advances of Aiden, and her repressed crush on Woodrow) in the movie with an impressive subtlety.
Some people have questioned whether Bellflower is an endorsement of some of the things its characters do, specifically whether the audience is supposed to side with Woodrow's increasingly unhealthy mindset, but the real Woodrow and Woodrow's id remain in stark contrast to one another. Like the film itself, Woodrow's thoughts and actions are less revealing of his true self and more like an emotional exorcism, absorbing the worst parts of his regret and his nervous, fiery anger, and forcing them out before they consume him.
Oscilloscope offers Bellflower in one of their usual recycled cardboard packages, which is very nice (just don't let it get flattened). The discs each get snug slit-sleeves cut into a folding piece of cardboard, with "faded Polaroid" pictures of Woodrow, Aiden and Milly, which slides into an outer slipcover. A postcard to sign up for Oscilloscope's subscription program (where they send you the studio's DVD releases) is also included inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Bellflower arrives on Blu-Ray with a 2.35:1, 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer that accurately captures Joel Hodge's cinematography. Smudges on the lens designed to bring focus to one part of the frame are vividly rendered, finding an excess of fine detail in the areas that remain untouched. Meanwhile, those searing oranges and reds are mostly contained by the transfer, and the somewhat extreme contrast is juggled nicely, with ink-blot blacks that don't contain any artifacting or noise. It may not be go-to demo material thanks to the style, but this is a flawless-looking transfer, down to the flecks of dirt on the lens.
Meanwhile, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio packs much stronger punch than I anticipated, from the roar of the Medusa up to the high-pitched ringing during some of the emotional flare-outs. Crowd ambience during the bar sequence is remarkably vivid and realistic, as are the occasional outdoor sequences in the suburban streets where the movie is set. There are also some great music-and-dialogue moments right at the end of the movie. A PCM Stereo 2.0 track is also included, and the disc features English captions for the hearing impaired.
"Behind the Scenes of Bellflower" (23:42) -- aka "A Look Into the Apocalyptic Love Story" -- dives into the "by-the-seat-of-their-pants" making of the movie, including the crew shacking up in the offices of a collapsing web company, Glodell living out of a garage, alternate takes of Glodell and Wiseman screaming at each other, the trip to Sundance, and of course, the making of the flamethrower and the Skylark. It also includes a great story about Sean Combs and some real blood -- a moment not for those with weak stomachs. Not super informative, but a nice document of the journey.
In case that's not enough of the car for you, "Medusa Rundown" (10:11) is an even more in-depth look at the vehicle, hosted by Glodell himself. For the unaware, nothing the car does in the film is a special effect, and Glodell's excitement for his rock-and-roll James Bond creation is evident. An extensive reel of uniquely unusual outtakes (7:58) rounds out the extras -- slow-motion, screaming, and vomiting are on the menu (also, in many of these shots you can see the original lettering on the Medusa -- it's much cooler in the final film).
Surprisingly, no trailers play before the main menu, but "Oscilloscope Releases" on the main menu leads to trailers for The Law, Terribly Happy, Beautiful Losers, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. The original theatrical trailer for Bellflower is also included.
A standard DVD is also included, and contains all the same extra content as the Blu-Ray disc.
Although Bellflower isn't likely to be the kind of movie one revisits on a whim -- it's a dark and draining experience -- this Blu-Ray + DVD combo pack is a nice little package for fans of the movie. Although a commentary by Glodell and some of his co-conspirators might've been appreciated, this release comes recommended.
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