In the day and age when any YouTube viewer with a fine understanding of Final Cut Pro can make an “indie film” solely based off of their special effect skills and ability to hold a camera comes an actual indie film that deserves all the credit it’s been getting. The film is Bellflower and it was written, produced, edited and directed by Evan Glodell. He also starred in it alongside Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman and Rebekah Brandes. Bellflower is the result of hard work and dedication. It’s a film that is visually unlike anything I’ve seen before and luckily the story is good enough to warrant a second viewing, due to its loopy second half. It’s the type of film that makes the director one to be closely watched as his next few pieces of work are really going to display his talents. Bellflower is a rough entry into the world of film and it could make for a very bright or dark future for Evan Glodell.
Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are two best friends who spent most of their childhood watching Mad Max. To the point of wanting to build their own indestructible car to rule the post-apocalyptic world once all the shit goes down. They are working on building a flamethrower (which Glodell actually built for the film) and spend most of their time obsessing over the end of the world that they hope is coming near. On a normal night out Woodrow meets a girl named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and the film slowly starts to establish itself as an off-brand boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl breaks his heart type of film, but that’s just what is presented on the surface. The film establishes its unstable characters early on and it’s how everything is so oddly presented that keeps this one interesting and different. Once Woodrow and Milly hit a rough patch and certain events unfold Bellflower takes a turn for the brutally unique and unsettling. Certain things “happen” that make you question what the hell is really happening up until the final uncomfortable minutes that leave you with a feeling of worry in your stomach.
The best thing about Bellflower is its unknown. The marketing for the film is all over the place from trailers focusing on the bad ass car Mother Medusa that they’re building for the end of the world to the indie vibe romantic trailers that focus on Woodrow and Milly. You can’t really peg Bellflower as one thing until you’ve actually experienced it all and that’s not an easy task to establish. The film could have crashed somewhere along the road trying to establish itself as both crazy and wacky with a disturbed heart at its core, but it never really loses focus. The marketing sells the film as a weird ride that you’ll never forget and that is exactly what the end result is. While I enjoyed the film I don’t think it would be fair to really indulge on specifics of the craziness as that is part of the fun. Discovering everything and reacting to everything makes for a good 30 percent of the fun in Bellflower and having that spoiled is a travesty in itself.
Something immediately worth noting in Bellflower is the unique visual style. Its colors are always bright, dirty and over saturated. Apparently director and star Evan Glodell constructed a camera for this particular film and I must say that alone really elevates this film into something worth watching purely on a visual level. Every shot looks and feels ugly and dirty, but you can’t help but to keep watching. It sets the tone early on when the relationship gets going because the visuals help keep a constant feeling of worry lingering. You think you’re watching two people meet and fall in love, but the uneasy visuals keep making you wonder what is exactly going to happen. It always makes it feel like something is slowly brewing.
Bellflower is a cheap film made on a shoestring budget and I think that really only hurts the film in the acting department. The whole small production look and feel really helps establish that uniqueness and I think it made Glodell and the crew focus on what they were trying to accomplish. The sound design feels cheap, but adds to the realism and the slow-mo shots of Medusa are just completely bad ass.
In terms of acting Bellflower only really struggles at the beginning with leading man Evan Glodell and sometimes Jessie Wiseman. The two give off odd bits of dialogue that feel forced and off putting, but as the film advances the acting advances. Glodell transforms Woodrow from the kind of unstable, but still sweet, nervous and charming guy into a complete nutcase that’s thrown caution to the wind. Wiseman does a fine job of slowly chipping away at the character of Milly, who on the surface is cute and safe, but as they layers get peeled away her truer ugly intentions start to poke out. She’s not a horrible person by any means, but certainly not as nice as you’d come to think and Wiseman seemed focused on delivering that character arc.
I really liked how Woodrow both physically and emotionally transforms over the period of Bellflower. His dialogue goes from uneasy and shy to just completely dark and dangerous and even his body gestures become more confident and focused. By the time he dawns a beard and a tired set of eyes you barely recognize him and you wonder if that was the same person you saw at the beginning of the film. Woodrow faces lots of experiences in the film and I think Glodell really understood how important it was to show that change Woodrow goes through.
Playing the supporting roles are Tyler Dawson and Rebekah Brandes. Dawson is Woodrow’s best friend Aiden, that guy who is always confident, but still honest and loyal. Aiden and Woodrow have excellent chemistry and that carries the bulk of the film and it helps make the whole thing more believable. You never question their friendship or their intentions and I think Dawson did really well when it came to making us believe he was the more grounded of the two guy characters. While he always seemed to understand what was going on and how to deal with certain pressures, unlike Woodrow. I’d still mark Aiden as the instigator who really guides Woodrow over the edge in such an innocent way.
Brandes plays Milly’s best friend, Courtney. I really enjoyed Brandes as an actress and I thought she provided the best performance in the whole film and also the most interesting character. Courtney is that nice friend who always gets treated like shit. Milly constantly blows her off and Woodrow and Aiden kind of look over her at the beginning of the film. She’s that friend that you have no problems talking to or getting emotional support from, but the second someone else becomes available you easily throw her to the side. Her character breakdown was subtle, but still left an impact by the end of the film.
The story of Bellflower really excels because of the wild bunch of characters presented. Everyone is a little off center and damaged and the film takes advantage of that, exposing it even. The film starts off innocent but slowly transcends into darker territories. The whole second half is a constant trip that’s worthy of multiple viewings just to get an exact grasp on what’s going on. Nothing feels overly excessive or pointless at all and it’s that tight feeling that Glodell gets across that really makes Bellflower a hidden gem.
Bellflower is definitely going to retract different responses from the audience and that is precisely why it’s a good film. Whether you end up enjoying the film or disliking the film you can’t deny the need to want to really chew it over. It makes for interesting discussions and I think most people are going to like that about it. You can look at it through a simple scope and just discuss the story presented or you can dig and elicit deeper reactions from people. The visuals work really well for the film and Glodell shows that he is capable of directing a film. It’s got some rough edges, but for a sophomore effort it’s actually quite impressive. The acting is the only questionable part of the film, but it gets better as the characters gain more exposure. Bellflower isn’t a perfect film by any means, but it’s a really good one. It’s what true independent cinema is all about. People who are passionate about film and don’t need big budgets to make something remarkable. Evan Glodell takes on several production roles in the film and he succeeds in just about all of them. Bellflower is proof that there are still well crafted young individuals out there. I’m looking forward to watching the film again and I’m really looking forward to what Glodell does next.
Bellflower – 8/10