Combustible Celluloid
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With: Evan Glodell, Jessie Wiseman, Tyler Dawson, Rebekah Brandes, Vincent Grashaw, Zack Kraus, Keghan Hurst, Alexandra Boylan
Written by: Evan Glodell
Directed by: Evan Glodell
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use
Running Time: 106
Date: 01/21/2011

Bellflower (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Breaking Up and Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Evan Glodell's Bellflower strikes me as the first mumblecore apocalypse movie, although it's one in which the apocalypse doesn't actually happen. It generates such a palpable sense of despair, pain, and numbing boredom that you might almost wish for the apocalypse to come.

It begins with buddies Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson), who have been Mad Max fans since childhood and are now building an array of gizmos -- fancy cars and flamethrowers -- that will come in handy at the end of the world. (Their hero is not Max himself, but rather Lord Humongous, the masked villain of The Road Warrior.)

Unfortunately, Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a bar and goes on an incredible date with her (one that lasts several days). She has fierce sparkly eyes and a thick, strong frame. He falls madly in love with her and pictures a future with her. She warned him, however, that she will probably hurt him and that's what she does. Woodrow catches her having sex with another guy.

From there things turn dark. Woodrow tries unsuccessfully to kill himself and winds up in the hospital, covered in bruises. While recovering, he spends time with Milly's best friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), whom Aiden has a crush on. After that, we get some flametrhower-fu, tattoo-fu, as well as bloody attacks and more suicides -- sort of.

The apocalypse theme hangs over the entire film, especially given its grungy, bleary look. Yet I think Glodell, who wrote and directed, overthinks this theme a bit. Rather than allowing this dark theme to just hover there, he underlines and emphasizes it, and then pulls back just before going over the edge with it.

It's a bit frustrating, especially when the question is already there: what is the apocalypse? Why does it have to involve burning buildings and tidal waves and hovering alien motherships? Why can't this miserable slice of history be an apocalypse, of a kind, in itself?

Normally, I can't forgive timidity, or the assumption that the audience is too stupid to follow along with one's themes and ideas. But I grudgingly forgive Bellflower, mainly for the vivid way it paints its characters into this baked, wilted world. These people are sad without knowing why, and their inexperience is dangerous.

Their talk rambles around in circles, half attempting jokes and half covering up for insecurities. Occasionally someone tries to reach out, but these attempts are fretful and precarious and are often met with nothingness. If that's not the end of the world, then I don't know what is.

Oscilloscope has released a double-disc set with a Blu-Ray and a DVD (in their trademark, environmentally-friendly, recyclable cardboard packaging). The film is designed to look grungy and washed-out, so it's difficult to judge transfer quality, but a quick look indicates that it's good. Extras include a 23-minute making-of featurette, a featurette on the car (the Medusa), outtakes, and trailers for this and other Oscilloscope releases.

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