Yes, that's a 70's Buick Skylark with dual flame shooting exhaust pipes. No, this isn't the movie you want it to be.
As one of the most talked about indie releases of the last year, Bellflower has garnered praise from critics and buzz from fans as a hyper-stylized, singular cinematic achievement. At first glance, it certainly stands out from the pack with art house visuals and a zany non-linear plot that wants to play out as a bizzaro amalgamation of Mad Max and 500 Days of Summer. Coupled with first time director/writer/star Evan Glodell's meager $17,000 budget and insistence on using a one of kind homemade camera this naturally created a lot of intrigue.
Just try to find a single 18-35 year old man with an appreciation for Mel Gibson's pre-anti-semetic output who doesn't get hard reading this Netflix synopsis:
“Two buddies prepare for the impending apocalypse by building a stockpile of high-grade weapons. Fostering dreams of launching a gang called Mother Medusa, the duo's plans are put on hold when they meet a young woman who introduces elements of violence and betrayal into this fraternity of End Times enthusiasts.“
Here's the problem:
All of this makes for great press release material, but the end product is a self-indulgent clusterfuck that pisses away all of its potential and draws serious attention to its numerous flaws. The only real accomplishment here is perfectly capturing the personalities of vapid LA hipster douchebags by creating a movie that functions as their film equivalent.Bellflower is all style and no substance in a desperate attempt to seem cool and important while simultaneously insisting that it doesn't really care what you think. A movie doesn't have to live up to my misguided expectations, but it does have to avoid being a colossal pile of steaming shit. Evan Glodell must have missed that memo.
Forget everything you've read. Bellflower isn't a movie about a Mad Max inspired gang or weapon stockpiling for an impending apocalypse. The story draws some influence from 80's post apocalyptic action films, but mostly uses images and ideas from The Road Warrior as a frame for a male power fantasy driven anti-love story. Protagonist Woodrow and his buddy Aiden are LA hipster transplants from the Midwest with an apocalypse fixation that drives their childlike desire to build a functioning flamethrower and intimidating death car in order to rule over the ruined society of the future. Their dreams are thrown into to turmoil when Woodrow falls in love with the free spirited (i.e. impulsive sociopath) Milly whose infidelity sets off a chain of events that leads to a closed head injury complete with violent delusions.
Any potential associated with the story is squandered the moment the actors start opening their mouths and speaking. I realize that this is a low budget film, but seriously, fuck you. Not having a lot of money to throw around should never be used as a crutch for bad writing (or in this case, almost none) or actors that are this consistently inept. Sure mumblecore is all the rage, but if you ask your actors to ad-lib it comes with the expectation that they've been given proper direction, understand the character they're playing, and can deliver an authentic performance. Instead the first time actors of Bellflower are given completely unlikable characters which they flesh out with repetitive dialogue that manages to make them even more painful to watch on screen. In between banal muttering punctuated with enough “yeah” “dude” and “awesome” to make your fucking head explode, we're treated to scenes that aim for emotionally intense but mostly land on laughably bad or sophomoric at best.
Honestly, I doubt Laurence fucking Olivier could save this dud. I guess if you're an insufferable self-centered hipster prick, the characters in Bellflower might not bother you. For the rest of us, everyone in this movie is difficult to empathize with and easy to hate. Woodrow goes from infantile and mildly irritating to detached cocksucker while Aiden fluctuates between mosquito like annoyance and full blown asshole. The women somehow manage to fare worse. Milly lacks that manic pixie dream girl charm the story demands and is incredibly off putting. Courtney at least starts as an attractive block of wood who graduates to Woodrow's hyper dependent cum dumpster by the film's end. As far as I can tell, everyone in Bellflower exists in a filthy ironic beard wonderland where they're paid an exorbitant salary to fuck like animals and drink malt liquor. Sure you don't need likable characters to tell a good story, but you do need well written ones. Bellflower has neither.
And what about that custom camera and all that talk of the director's unique cinematic vision? Maybe that's the silver lining. If you're a camera geek you might appreciate some subtle touches here and there, but the audience is rarely served up any sort of visual flare they haven't been exposed to before. Most of the stylized scenes reek of Tony Scott Domino worship and the other little tricks aren't anything beyond what can be done with a base knowledge of modern effects and editing techniques.
Ultimately Bellflower shows some promise early but fails to bring anything particularly interesting to the table. With a plodding second act, poor acting, one note obnoxious characters, and a relentless atmosphere of grating smugness, there isn't much to recommend here. Maybe if you live in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles and have a rare form of autism which causes you to watch Slacker on a loop while furiously masturbating to muscle car magazines you'll get something out of it. The rest of the world can pass on this one.