What is it with slackers and flamethrowers in the movies these days? Earlier this year, the two dolts in 30 Minutes or Less managed to build one from spare parts, and now Woodrow (Evan Glodell, who also wrote and directed) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) do the same in this ambitious hipster epic. True, the latter two possess more smarts and style than the 30 Minutes guys, but theirs is in service to a plan that's a lot less realistic. They want to emulate their heroes in the Mad Max movies and prepare for the inevitable apocalypse when the world becomes their wasteland. How seriously they are taking this dream is unclear, but either way they are indulging in behavior that would be regressive if they were 12, let alone pushing 30.
>> READ: "On the road with the director of Bellflower" by Brett Michel <<
Nonetheless, you've got to admire their ingenuity, imagination, and energy. In addition to the flamethrower, they've also rigged up a whiskey-dispensing car dashboard, and as a piece de resistance have created the Road Warrior–inspired "Medusa," a 1972 Buick Skylark souped up to breathe fire. They're all set for the wasteland to come, but what about the one that lies within?
Glodell's moviemaking similarly impresses. He designed and built Medusa himself, and it really shoots flames (see below). He also devised a special camera and with it he achieves a kind of cinema vérité, skewed yet fluid, and bathed in a sickly yellow light. With these assets he seeks to transform his sordid, rambling story into myth, or into an existential parable of identity, and at the same time strip down and reconstruct the elements and conventions of a typical indie film.
Its non-linear structure leaves that of Blue Valentine in the dust, and its elliptical narrative and unreliable point of view take at least two viewings (for me) to unravel (maybe). The opening, cryptic montage of reversed, slow-motion scenes establishes the lofty tone and the expectations of Mulholland Drive-like conundrums. Much of this promise is fulfilled; however, a little less showing off might have made for a smoother ride as Bellflower circles around a nascent, elusive revelation.
Maybe it all comes down to a rite of passage, from the romantic illusions of adolescence to the nihilist illusions of growing up. Both extremes in Aiden and Woodrow's case are poisoned with misogyny. The name of the car might sum up their attitude toward women: semi-divine, tantalizing, and fatal. Nonetheless, maybe because he suspects their bromance is getting too intense, Aiden goads Woodrow into making a move on one of the women at a local bar. It's a classic meet-cute situation: he and kooky Milly (Jessie Wiseman) compete in a cricket-eating contest. The next day they drive from California to a greasy spoon in Texas where Woodrow gets cold-cocked by a redneck, they trade the car for a motorcycle, and they're on the road again.
It's true love. For Woodrow, anyway. Milly's not so sure. Regardless, she's a detour from Woodrow's joyride with Aiden, a side trip that soon hits some rough going. So does the film's continuity, as the narrative fractures into shards of past and present, bits of memory and figments of the imagination that blur prismatically. What's real and what isn't? Or does it even matter, as Woodrow sinks into a fever dream of revenge, rage, and loss? "You need some new images," Aiden counsels his battered friend near the end. As Glodell might be suggesting, so do we all.