“Bellflower” was a Sundance Festival favorite back at the beginning of the year, and it would have been better had it stayed there. The ultra-low budget indie is the sort of film that might play well before a tolerant, indeed eager-to-be-pleased audience at such a specialized venue, but rightly fizzles when released into the wider world, where its narrative flimsiness and technical inadequacy aren’t so cavalierly overlooked.
The picture is the work of Evan Glodell, who wrote the script, directed, served as co-editor and stars as Woodrow, an amiable slacker who’s moved to California from the Midwest with his pal Aiden (Tyler Dawson). The two of them have no visible means of support, but they spend their time—and whatever cash they have—building industrial-strength flamethrowers and testing them out as though they were playing videogames. They also dream of outfitting a muscle car with flamethrowers, too. Obviously these guys are chasing the dream—or maybe a nightmare.
After “work” one day they repair to a local watering-hole, where Woodrow challenges a free-wheeling girl named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) in a cricket-eating contest. She wins, but it so brings them together that they’re soon not only in one another’s arms but on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Texas and back. The relationship is short-lived, though, and soon Woodrow has moved on to Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), who gravitates to him after a fling with Aiden. On the sidelines is Mike (Vincent Grashaw), Milly’s roommate, whose interest in her consists of more than just sharing the rent. He’ll have life-altering run-ins with both Woodrow and Aiden that lead to an apocalyptic ending.
Or do they? That’s debatable because sections of “Bellflower” are clearly hallucinatory episodes experienced by Woodrow, which fractures a movie that’s already plagued by sudden foreshadowings, unannounced chronological shifts and abrupt transitions. Some of this may be due to the ultra-low budget, but more likely it’s the result of Glodell’s grandiose ambition to fashion something striking and intense, in which immediate affect is a far more important commodity than coherence. The result may be arresting, but not necessarily in a pleasant or significant way.
The acting is understandably variable. Glodell holds center stage as Woodrow, who’s as often the passive recipient of action rather than the initiator, and he’s often overshadowed by the flamboyant, volatile Wiseman. Dawson, by contrast, adds a note of amiable comradeship as Aiden goes to extraordinary lengths to aid his buddy in what’s actually more of a bromance than anything else; and Brandes is certainly an energetic chick. The variability extends to the technical side. Joel Hodge’s camerawork veers from murky to showy, and together with Glodell his editing makes for a great many lurches and confusing shifts of time and perspective. The soundtrack bursts with noise and raucous music.
Much of the praise for “Bellflower” comes with the proviso that it made for almost nothing. But a mess is a mess without respect to budget; there are $300,000,000 messes and $17,000 ones. It falls into the latter category. But you still have to give Glodell credit for trying.