REVIEW: ‘Bellflower’ (2011)

Grade: B+

Add Evan Glodell’s name to the list of up and coming filmmakers whose future projects I will be anticipating thanks to their work in 2011. Glodell’s first narrative film Bellflower opened in theatres this past weekend and it is one of the best no-budget movies of the year. In it he takes on the role of writer, director, lead actor, producer, and editor to bring his original vision to the screen. With a budget of less than $20 thousand (yes thousand, not million) he managed to make a gritty and imaginative thriller that makes a nice escape from the big-budget blockbusters that dominated the summer.

Bellflower was a passion project for Evan Glodell with four years from the start of production to the release of the film. A natural engineer, Glodell devised his own camera for the film’s production as well as many of the complex set pieces – a flamethrower, a souped up muscle car, and other more subtle properties. Most of the cast and crew came on board during the film’s production and few of them knew each other beforehand. That sense of discovery comes through in every performance adding a great sense of naturalism.

The film centers on best friends Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) who grew up obsessed with the Mad Max films and moved from their small town in Wisconsin to California where they float through life with no responsibilities attempting to create their own Apocalypse preparation system. They call their imaginary gang “Mother Medusa” and they surround themselves with a Mad Max style muscle-car, a homemade flamethrower, and natural inclinations towards violence.

Woodrow meets an out-spoken girl named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a party and she becomes an honorary member of their gang. When Milly is found being unfaithful to Woodrow both he and Aiden spiral downward in a descent to violence. Woodrow is injured in an accident indirectly caused by Milly and he experiences minor brain damage. The accident is either the cause or the catalyst for the collision between his violent fantasies and his confounding reality leading to a surreal third act that seems to be inspired by Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Glodell leaves enough questions unanswered that the film will be a delight to discover a second time.

From the start of Bellflower the sets feel like they are lit with fire rather than conventional film lights. Blurry camera lenses and fantastic looking tilt-shift photography add to the surreal feeling of certain scenes in the movie. Despite the fact that the characters were influenced by Mad Max, the visual scheme of Bellflower bears little resemblance to George Miller’s 1979 dystopian film. The camera stays steady with Woodrow and Aiden with few cuts and a murky aesthetic. With the minimal budget there was incredible imagination employed to pull off this visual scheme and it completely works.

There is some commentary about machines and mankind on the thematic side of Bellflower. Dirty looking machines like flamethrowers and muscle cars work flawlessly while relationships between good-looking people are falling apart. At the beginning we see outward appearances mask the turmoil within, but as the characters begin to erode emotionally we see their physical appearances get affected as well.

Glodell is better behind the camera than in front of it, but still is restrained enough to prevent the ego from affecting the performance. Tyler Dawson was very likeable as his endlessly loyal best friend and Rebekah Brandes played the part of a vulnerable twenty-something well. The real standout, however, is Jessie Wiseman who remarkably makes her acting debut with this effort. There is no learning curve for her as she fearlessly comes across as a seasoned veteran.

The original soundtrack from co-producer Jonathan Keevil was catchy, even though it inspired one too many music video style montages. Other technical elements come together remarkably well and I’m excited to see they type of work Glodell can do when he actually has a budget to work with.

Bottom Line: Bellflower is a solid independent thriller that packs more suspense than most blockbusters.

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