The opening montage of Bellflower flashes foreboding, orange-hued scene fragments that are eventually, and quite exquisitely, stitched into place in Evan Glodell’s fierce, head-turning first feature about the high-octane leisure pursuits of two twentysomethings from Wisconsin and their new California friends.
Bellflower. It’s such a pretty-sounding title. But in this film the seemingly square and lovelorn Woodrow (Glodell) makes a first date with pig-tailed siren Milly (Jessie Wiseman) after they go head to head in a live-cricket-eating contest at a local barroom. Pretty it ain’t.
Woodrow has recently moved to a beat-up patch of the California coast with childhood friend and life-of-the-party wannabe Aiden (Canada-born Tyler Dawson). And they are literally having a blast. Having OD’d on Mad Max movies in their youth, they are custom-building their own flamethrower, conducting tests in the rundown neighborhood’s abundant abandoned spaces.
Glodell isn’t concerned with explaining whether or not his characters have jobs – or trust funds, for that matter. All we know is Woodrow and Aiden are preparing for a Road Warrior-style outlaw existence. But it’s unlikely they really believe the apocalypse is around the corner. It’s more likely their venture is a kind of warped spin on MTV’s The Buried Life, with the two friends playing out a childhood fantasy until they can come up with something better to do.
The film’s fiery and violent imagery mirrors the intense social life of Woodrow and Aiden’s new circle of friends. Male-female courtship consists of heavy drinking and trash-talking dares (none of the Mumblecore crowd’s rambling).
For their first date, Milly challenges Woodrow to take her to the “cheapest, nastiest place” he can think of. He obliges by taking her on a three-day road trip to a Texas highway rest stop in his muscle car, affectionately called Medusa, which features such custom enhancements as a whisky dispenser (“It’s like a James Bond car for drunks,” Milly delightedly exclaims).
On the drive home, they trade four wheels for two – a retro motorcycle that suits the black-leather-jacket-wearing, facial-hair-growing bad boy unleashed by their companionship. Milly warns Woodrow he’ll get burned. He’s so drunk with love he thinks he’s flameproof.
Glodell is impressive both in front of and behind the camera. He built a custom camera rig to get a unique look, and co-producer and creative collaborator Joel Hodge takes it to the artistic limits.
Sure, his ultra-low-budget feature has a familiar “lemons into lemonade,” making-of story, and plot-wise he isn’t reinventing the hot wheel here. But Bellflower has a captivating, authentic, handmade quality. The emotions always feel raw and real, and the characters are different enough from their indie-flick brethren to keep you interested.
When Woodrow’s heart and head break, the film moves into its more violent and disorienting third act, but Glodell never lets his creation spin out of control. Bellflower revs the engine of an exciting new maverick.
Special to The Globe and Mail
- Directed and written by Evan Glodell
- Starring Evan Glodell, Jessie Wiseman, Tyler Dawson, Rebekah Brandes and Vincent Grashaw
- Classification: 18A