Bellflower: Sundance Review

Quirky romance turns shockingly violent.

Evan Glodell's uncategorizable debut mixes messy romance and ill-advised D.I.Y. obsessions into a knotty but compelling vision of pop culture-damaged youth.

PARK CITY -- (NEXT section) A compelling stew of dark fantasies and youthful gonzo ambition, the hard-to-classify Bellflower will alienate some viewers but presents a bracing vision that is, despite its nihilistic leanings, almost charming.

Niche theatrical potential is solid for distribs who can pull young audiences into the arthouse, though buyers might reasonably request some polish to the occasionally careless sound mix.

The picture starts as quirky romance set amongst Ventura County's slacker fringe, as a scruffy Wisconsin transplant Woodrow, played by 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 good-hearted best friend, Aiden (Tyler Dawson), have improbably held to the childhood dreams of countless pre-teen American boys, acquiring enough mechanical know-how to actually build "Mad Max"-type gear and fantasize about the day they'll put it to use.

Aiden and Woodrow explode propane tanks, torch scarecrows with homemade flamethrowers (in wildfire-prone Southern California, no less), and tear through streets in a souped-up muscle car with "Medusa" painted on its side.

According to press notes, the movie was made with much of the energetic recklessness its heroes exhibit, and from the finished product that isn't hard to believe: The movie's distinctive look owes heavily to the home-brewed gear Glodell built to use with his high-end digital camera, and you can almost hear the filmmakers muttering "screw it" when a smudge of dirt appears distractingly on the lens

Some of these (sometimes accidental?) stylistic flourishes contribute to Bellflower's alternate-reality vibe -- a tilt-shift shot of a vintage car cruising desert highways, for instance -- while a few test the viewer's suspension of disbelief.

Things come perilously close to falling apart -- for both the characters and the film itself -- in the picture's second half. When budding romance sours drastically, the movie's violence becomes shocking and 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 that couldn't have been produced without the schlocky entertainments that have channeled the imaginations of gifted but impressionable kids for decades.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, NEXT
Production Company: Coatwolf Productions
Cast: Evan Glodell, Jessie Wiseman, Tyler Dawson, Rebekah Brandes, Vincent Grashaw
Director-Screenwriter: Evan Glodell
Producer: Vincent Grashaw
Executive producers: Brian Thomas Evans, Josh Kelling
Director of photography: Joel Hodge
Production designer: Team Coatwolf
Music: Jonathan Keevil
Editors: Evan Glodell, Joel Hodge, Jonathan Keevil, Vincent Grashaw
Sales: CAA
No rating, 105 minutes