Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Bellflower
In Bellflower, filmmaker Evan Glodell pulls triple duty, starring in a movie he not only directed but also wrote. Glodell’s intimate investment in the film is palpable in nearly every scene, nursing the movie to beautiful and shocking highs – while, at the same time, lacking the kind of focus and restraint that could have helped Bellflower reach an even wider audience.
This isn’t to say the director needed to compromise his vision or tone down the violence – it’s just that Glodell’s film is so intense – and on a few occasions difficult to follow – that it’s hard to know which scenes are the result of a sharp up-and-coming filmmaker and which ones are the result of a creator whose unilateral control got in the way of competent story telling.
Bellflower follows a pair of friends, Woodrow and Aiden, who moved to the West Coast in search of the oft-revered California lifestyle. Caught in a state of arrested development, the pair build weapons and other objects in their spare time: a flamethrower, a car with a built-in whiskey dispenser, and eventually the iconic flamethrowing Medusa car. The pair get acquainted with a new group of friends after Woodrow competes in a bug eating contest with a local girl, Milly. Woodrow and Milly become fast-friends and quickly pursue their mutual interest in one another – agreeing to become boyfriend and girlfriend, despite Milly’s fear that the relationship will ultimately end badly. Of course that’s only the beginning of the story, as the subsequent hour portrays an increasingly violent and chaotic series of events that leave many of the film’s characters in utter shambles.
Obviously, Bellflower was never conceived as a big-budget drama with high-profile actors – it’s an intimate and remarkably candid project that, in nearly every way, embodies the kind of moviegoing experience that we expect from independent filmmakers – an intimate character drama with loads of improvisation both behind and in front of the lens, as well as a heavy focus on the film’s visual aesthetic.
In the case of Bellflower, the unique look of the film was achieved through a one-of-a-kind camera that Glodell himself designed, and was subsequently wielded by Director of Photography, Joel Hodge. The combined talents of the two filmmakers definitely result in some interesting visual moments that will, no doubt, remind audiences of the artistry that exists outside of the studio system.
Unfortunately, not all of Glodell’s decisions are as inspired as his choice in cameramen. Many of the performances in the film are stilted, including Glodell’s. For the most part, the cast succeeds in conveying believable emotions scene to scene – but it’s easy to tell that there was a lot of improvisation on-set, some of which comes across a bit sloppy. Plenty of scenes would no doubt be compelling on the written page, but when brought to life on screen, are undermined by unrestrained performances – where actions communicate the underlying emotions of the characters, instead of the performances.
For example, by far the most egregious example of the film pushing through a series of scenes (without real emotional complexity from the performers) occurs as the relationship between Woodrow and Milly develops. Despite a lot of giggles and leering at one another, the romance is mostly advanced (and told to the audience) through physical actions – cuddling in the back seat of a car or making love for the first time. We understand what’s happening because of the familiar story beats, but the emotional complexity of the characters is really only half-present in most scenes – and, as a result, falls short of becoming fully realized.
Similarly, the overarching story eventually slides off the rails and it becomes somewhat difficult to know who, or what, to invest in. The closing twenty minutes are especially problematic – as very little of the violence is warranted and some of the more “shocking” moments aren’t grounded enough to really have an impact. Instead, despite being provocative, portions of the film come across as either too manipulative or flat-out convoluted to successfully communicate any more than what could have been conveyed by asking Glodell to step onto a stage and just scream at the top of his lungs.
Admittedly, it’s unlikely that a lot of people will sit down in the theater and expect Bellflower to be a run-of-the-mill narrative – and there’s no doubt that plenty of moviegoers who view Glodell’s movie will be mesmerized by the beauty of the filmmaking, as well as the sheer intensity depicted in the latter half of the movie.
That said, much like the main characters who revel in their ability to destroy as much as their skill at building, Bellflower is a celebration of the extremes in life – the angel and the devil, the mother and the prostitute, the protector and the doom carrier. The problem is, without anything in between, most everyone is reduced to an unrelatable outline, and all of the drama, pain and sorrow, carries very little believable context. As a result, the climax and aftermath fall flat.
If you’re still on the fence about Bellflower, check out the trailer below:
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Bellflower is currently playing in limited release.