Sundance Review: “Bellflower”

Joel Hodge

An unusual take on boys misguided by pop culture.

A compelling stew of dark fantasies and youthful gonzo ambition, the hard-to-classify Bellflower presents a vision that is, despite its nihilistic leanings, almost charming.

The film starts as a quirky romance set among Ventura County, Calif.’s, slacker fringe as scruffy Wisconsin transplant Woodrow (writer-director Evan Glodell) woos a blonde (Jessie Wiseman) he meets in a boozy grasshopper-eating contest. An impromptu road trip to Texas follows, with episodes introducing two of the movie’s key ingredients: sudden, ill-considered violence and a nutty obsession with mechanical tinkering.

Woodrow and his incorrigible but goodhearted best friend, Aiden (Tyler Dawson), have held on to the childhood dreams of countless American boys, acquiring enough mechanical know-how to build Mad Max-type gear. They explode propane tanks, torch scarecrows with homemade flamethrowers and tear through streets in a souped-up muscle car.

The movie was made with much of the energetic recklessness its heroes exhibit, and that isn’t hard to believe: The distinctive look owes heavily to the home-brewed gear Glodell built to use with his high-end digital camera. Things come perilously close to falling apart — for the characters and the film — in the picture’s second half, when what has until now been a portrait of faulty, drunken judgment threatens to turn into a do-it-yourself psychological apocalypse.

Jump cuts and fractured chronology suggest a jumble of possible outcomes, depicting the essential conflicts produced by a pop-culture world that rears even gentle boys to dream of global disaster and comic book mayhem. It’s messy and leaves an unusual taste on the palate, but Bellflower has a strange ugly-sweet appeal.

Cast: Evan Glodell, Jessie Wiseman, Tyler Dawson
Director-screenwriter: Evan Glodell
Producer: Vincent Grashaw
No rating, 105 minutes