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Sundance 2011 Review: BELLFLOWER is a Powerful Apocalyptic Love Story Wrapped in Destruction

Movie Review Sundance by Ben Pearson

 

For me, Bellflower was one of the rare movies at Sundance of which I knew almost nothing before seeing it. I heard good buzz, but didn't really know much about the plot. Surprisingly, I was blown away by this movie - I don't think it's the best film of the festival or anything, but it's an unexpectedly personal love story mixed with apocalyptic undertones. It's astonishingly unique and simply a really good movie. Parts of it are tough to watch (brutal, unflinching violence are peppered in here and there), but it also had an ineffable way of making me nostalgic for memories I've never even experienced.

The movie begins with a montage of images featured later in the film, and they're pretty haunting: we're sure this story isn't going to end happily. The proper opening introduces the two main male characters Woodrow and Aiden: they're best buds who do nothing but drink and prepare for the apocalypse by building Mad Max-style flamethrowers and muscle cars. (One of the flaws in the film is it doesn't explain what they do for a living or how they're able to afford these ridiculously expensive pieces of custom material.) When Woodrow meets Milly, they fall in the kind of love in which only hipsters can fall: driving from L.A. to Texas on their first date, drinking whiskey from a custom dispenser in Woodrow's car, generally being almost too cute for their own good. And as tacky as that sounds, this part of the movie is actually really well done. It makes you care about the characters and root for them; they're both interesting people individually and they make a good pair.

After returning to L.A., the newly-established couple continues their romantic streak - much to the unspoken chagrin of Aiden, whose relationship with Woodrow borders on homoerotic. It's OK, though - he's crushing on Milly's best friend Courtney. Unfortunately, as one of the interspersed title cards throughout the film says, "All Good Things End." This is the point where the movie takes a turn into some strange territory.

The imagery and tone of Bellflower shifts dramatically, taking a path down an avenue of destruction that's seemingly a one-way street. Heartbreak is meshed with violence and the film gets pretty damn dark; so far, in fact, that I wasn't sure I liked it anymore after being completely sucked in by the first half. Time is thrown into a blender, leaving the audience wandering and disoriented - much like Woodrow in the wake of his relationship gone bad. I won't reveal how the film ends, but I'll tell you that it goes in yet another interesting direction and will leave you thinking about it long after you leave the theater (fingers crossed it gets picked up for distribution, but I think it's a long shot at this point).

Writer/director/star Evan Glodell uses a muted but stylized color palette to great success, and does a great job at capturing an indescribable ambience to match the highly original narrative. There's something immeasurably cool about seeing a real homemade flame thrower fired on screen and a tricked-out muscle car spew actual fire from its exhaust. Though the breakup and ensuing carnage seems to come a bit too quickly, I thought the relationships were all handled well - especially between Woodrow and Aiden and their ability (or lack thereof) to separate from each other even in the midst of craziness unfolding around them. The writing is strong, the storytelling is fantastic, and Bellflower is one for the ages - an original spark in a festival full of films that don't live up to their potential. Love it or hate it, Bellflower is a ballsy look into love, heartbreak, and destruction that you won't be able to forget.

Here's the official synopsis:

An apocalyptic love story for the Mad Max generation, Evan Glodell’s impressive feature debut paints a classic, yet urgently contemporary, tale of the destructive power of love.

Bellflower follows two friends who spend their time building flamethrowers and other weapons in the hope that a global apocalypse will occur and clear the runway for their imaginary gang, Mother Medusa, to reign supreme. While waiting for the destruction to commence, one of them meets a charismatic young woman and falls in love—hard. Quickly integrating into a new group of friends, the pair set off on a journey of betrayal, love, hate, and extreme violence more devastating than any of their apocalyptic fantasies.

With highly stylized photography and editing, Bellflower is an exhilarating, character-driven joyride. Fueling this narrative with fantastic imagery and extraordinary performances, writer/director/actor Glodell elevates the ordinary experiences of friendship and romance into the stuff of legend.

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