Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 106 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Age Appropriate for: 17+. Cursing, tons of violence (both sexual and involving flamethrowers and baseball bats), a few graphic sex scenes (including a fully nude woman, and some other topless females and a man’s butt), a few character deaths (one involving a gunshot to the head), lots of vomit and blood, and drinking and drug use. Do. Not. Let. Your. Teen. Go.
‘Bellflower’ looks surprisingly beautiful for being made with only $17,000, but the impressive cinematography pales next to the film’s rampant misogyny. When the apocalypse comes, it’s probably because a woman caused it, apparently.
By Roxana Hadadi
“Bellflower” is a gritty, beautiful, somewhat charmingly aloof and weird film, until it becomes crazy, misogynistic, poorly developed and ultimately useless. Director and star Evan Glodell can’t commit to an ending, so he commits to bashing all women instead. Yay!
You got that as a sarcastic “Yay!”, right? Because it’s extremely difficult to forget the absurdist themes of “Bellflower” after sitting through the R-rated flick, which was made with only Glodell’s $17,000 in savings. He designed and made the cameras, which combine vintage analog elements with digital equipment, used to shoot the film, as well as the flamethrower and flashy car integral to its plot. Glodell’s engineering background is incredibly useful to “Bellflower,” helping create a glowing, ethereal world that crumbles rapidly into decay, but what about character development? Believable plot choices? A coherent conclusion? Nah, those things don’t matter.
How much you enjoy “Bellflower” will depend on whether you can get with how the film careens off course toward its end — that’s not a spoiler, just a FYI regarding a somewhat hazy twist. It’ll either smack you as thought-provoking or lazy (the latter opinion is mine, clearly), but ultimately it will stick with you. I suppose that’s what Glodell wants, of course, and he gets it. A week later I’m still furious over the film’s ending. I’m proclaiming a plague on his house.
“Bellflower” focuses first on the bromance between best friends Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson), who grew up in Wisconsin obsessed with the “Mad Max” films and planning their survival plan for when the apocalypse comes. How cool would it be to “torch everything,” they wonder, and years later they’ve moved to California and are committing themselves fully to the project. Neither of them seems to have a job — no one in their age group does in the movie, which sadly seems realistic — so they spend their days working on Mother Medusa, their dream car, and figuring out how to model their lives after Lord Humungus, the barbaric, domineering bad guy from “The Road Warrior,” the second film in the “Mad Max” trilogy. They also drink and party a lot, obviously.
But the bond between the two fractures one night when Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a gutsy blonde, at a cricket-eating contest at a local bar. Her fearlessness and impulsiveness are like a magnet for the shy, timid Woodrow, whose awkwardness contrasts with Aiden’s ease and flirtation with Milly’s best friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes). After a first date where Milly challenges Woodrow to take her to somewhere truly disgusting — “If I don’t get sick, I’m going to be pissed off,” she says — the two end up in Texas and then in a relationship. It’s clear things aren’t going to end well, though, when Milly warns Woodrow that she’ll hurt him (“That’s always what happens”) and avoids explaining her relationship with her roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw), who is just brooding and sinister enough to be bad news.
And wouldn’t you know, Milly hurts Woodrow in a terribly graphic way, an event that leaves him both mentally traumatized and physically devastated after a related accident. How he deals with what he perceives to be her assault on his masculinity, and the ways his actions reverberate through the group of Milly, Aiden, Courtney and Mike, form the craziness of the film’s second half. Mother Medusa, Woodrow’s flamethrower and increasingly vicious forms of revenge drive the relationships between these characters, who all become so desperate and debased that it’s hard to figure out how they really got there.
Glodell wants to say something about the way society views and defines masculinity in our young men, and it’s obvious that he’s been hurt in the past — why else would his two female characters be such conniving, duplicitous and back-stabbing harpies? But while he drops in hints regarding the resentment between Woodrow and Aiden and Courtney and Milly, there’s not enough to truly get an idea of why these characters became who they are. Woodrow’s and Aiden’s exceedingly desperate acts are only explained with a shrugging “Our minds got warped” in relation to “Mad Max,” and Courtney’s and Milly’s suffering friendship is apparently only because they don’t talk anymore. Glodell wants us to get that everyone here is suffering, but why? And why should we care?
While Glodell’s story isn’t developed enough to make its disparate relationships believable, he’s assembled a promising cast: Dawson has a puckish quality that seems like teenage rebel Jess from “Gilmore Girls” with nothing left to lose, and Wiseman is ballsy enough to throw herself into a character we’re all clearly meant to hate. Similarly good is the cinematography, which benefits most from stark, startlingly captivating images of bursts of fire blazing through abandoned deserts and beaches, and the soundtrack, which makes good use of cult hits like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”
Yet those successes can’t balance out the film’s overall unevenness and the lingering quality of its misogyny. The core of the “Mad Max” movies, which Glodell clearly pays homage to, was the importance of survival in a world without rules. But instead of channeling those films’ berserk mania in a believable way, Glodell brings to mind the unsavory elements of “Mad Max” star Mel Gibson’s real-life woman-bashing instead. After seeing “Bellflower,” it’s hard to forget the image of the all-black, tricked-out Mother Medusa screaming down the highway, crafted by two dudes looking to assert their masculinity in a world that consistently strips it from them, but it’s harder to forget that those characters choose to assert themselves by subjugating the hell out of some women they claim to care about. Glodell doesn’t make it clear whether he agrees with their methods or not, and in that ambivalence, “Bellflower” veers from gritty and dramatic to repulsive and unnecessary.