I’m a big enough fan of The Road Warrior that my best friend and I once sacrificed a Friday to watch it in a rundown theater in the Beverly neighborhood of Los Angeles, complete with a flask of Bulleit bourbon we had spirited in. More generally, I’m also a young American male, which means I too enjoy shit that goes “Boom!” And I can relate to occasional fantasies of dissolving the confusing channels and restraints of civilization in a route of purifying violence. So I get where Bellflower is coming from. I just wish I got where it winds up going.
Woodrow (Evan Glodell, also the writer and director) and his best friend Aidan (Tyler Dawson) have moved out to California to pursue… well, I’m honestly not sure what. They’re in love with the mythos of The Road Warrior, and have adopted Lord Humungous – the film’s masked behemoth of a villain – as a kind of spiritual mascot. They also spend a good deal of their time fantasizing about what they would do should they find themselves adrift in your standard post-civilizational wasteland.
To this end – and despite having no identifiable sources of income — they spend most of their time building a Mad-Max-inspired muscle car and a flamethrower. Yes, a flamethrower. They share a rundown house and sleep on bare mattresses. After they cook a minimalist breakfasts of eggs, bacon and toast, then discuss their post-apocalyptic life as plundering gang lords in their particular laid-back, explicative-laden, southern California style.
But sooner or later, other human beings and the inconveniences of society must intrude. One night, Aidan and Woodrow find themselves at a bar, being offered the chance to win $50 by eating a pile of crickets. Woodrow steps up and loses handily to Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a pugnacious blond. This encounter leads to an exchange of phone numbers, an impromptu trip to Texas on their first date, a relationship, and all the messiness and confusion entailed therein.
These early scenes are the film’s best. Woodrow and Aidan are both readily identifiable human beings, and their banter has a genuine charm. So too does Woodrow’s initial courtship of Milly, which despite an all-too-cute devil-may-care sense of adventure, somehow remains believable. Bellflower’s evocations of the rituals and social grind of the early twenty-something cohort also ring true; the parties as Woodrow and Aidan integrate into their new social circle, the drunkenness, the puking, the occasional violence and the awkward courtships are driven not just by human nature, but by a strange sense of obligation. These characters are proceeding through a set of cultural signifiers out of duty as much as need, as if to remind themselves that yes, they are young, and no, they will not look back with regret that they did not act young.
Unfortunately, the film never figures out what to do with all this. The clarity and control of its first half does not unwind into a thought-out story or logistical process. Rather, the story piles on random events, destructive behavior, and improbably bad judgment until it dissolves into a formless, emotive primal scream of the twenty-something male id. I’m honestly not sure if the last thirty minutes are supposed to be a fantasy sequence, or what “really” happened. If the former, then it’s a cheat; in either case, it still functions as the self-indulgent abandonment of a story rather than the creation of one.
I suppose there’s a substantial audience out there who would read that previous paragraph as an endorsement, but I am not one of them. Film, like all genuinely useful communication, requires a certain ethic of self-control and self-refusal from the person doing the communicating. It’s not that emotional catharsis should be avoided, but that it should be structured and have a point. All of this need not be “uplifting” – I’m all for exploring the dark territory Bellflower dabbles in — but the point should be to benefit the audience rather than the filmmaker.
All that said, the film is a truly indie effort shot on a next-to-nothing budget. It has a recognizable, individual voice and point of view. The homemade camera created to shoot the film is an accomplishment in and of itself, and lends the film an intriguing visual style. It’s just unfortunate that Glodell and crew didn’t put as much work into their story as they did into their camera equipment. Bellflower feels not like a film that will put them on the map, but a film they needed to get out of their system before they make the stuff that puts them on the map.