'Bellflower' received a ton of critical praise at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. After hearing so much about it I was sad that I was never able to get to a screening. My schedule was far too packed to fit it in, but I decided that once it hit home video I was going to see it. Truth is, I should've left it unseen.
'Bellflower' isn't without ambition. Director Evan Glodell, who also plays the main character Woodrow, shows that he has no qualms with directing a movie with the seemingly haphazard cinematic vision that peppers Tarantino movies. It's just that Glodell has failed to create any likable characters. Hell, the characters don't have to be likable, just watchable, but here they're not. They're the dingy dreams of hipsters everywhere. Messy, foul-mouthed wastoids who drink all day and can somehow afford to eat and pay rent without a hint of having jobs.
Woodrow and his best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are post-apocalyptic aficionados. Ever since the very first time they saw 'Mad Max' Woodrow and Aiden have been planning for the end of the world. Their grand creation is a workable flame thrower which they plan to use after the world ends. They'll lay waste to the land, burn everything and then everyone will follow them.
Woodrow is a clean-cut guy, nice and somewhat endearing. One night he meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a bar after they compete in a cricket eating contest. The two of them hit it off and promptly drive to Texas together just because.
Some people may like viewing the lives of aimlessly wandering characters who have no discernible purpose to being alive, but I don't. Woodrow becomes obsessed with Milly and has his heart torn out when she betrays him. In a Jekyll and Hyde moment Woodrow goes from this clean-cut nice guy, to a dirty, gloomy presence who mopes around his house all day fuming over lost love.
In total indie-film-festival style, the movie spirals into a self-loathing biopic where Woodrow descends further and further into despair and anger. Devolving into an angry hipster, Woodrow grows a nasty unkempt beard and exudes angst at every turn.
'Bellflower' is far too melodramatic for its own good. Its characters are seemingly void of any rational thought. They exist on a plane where nothing else matters other than getting drunk and wildly beating up anyone who stands in their way.
The dialogue in 'Bellflower' is excruciatingly simple. Go to any local high school and listen to 13 year-olds talk to each other and you will get the gist of how Aiden and Woodrow speak. "Hey dude!" "Dude!" "Oh man, dude!" Needless to say their nonsensical conversations begin to become irritating sooner rather than later.
I can see why people thought 'Bellflower' was a great movie. Glodell isn't afraid to tell the story the way he wants to. Even though it doesn't appeal to me in the slightest, his uncaring, misogynistic characters may appeal to someone else. Certainly 'Bellflower' with its intentionally gritty look (with intentional dirt and grime on the camera lens) gives off a distinct indie flavor. An indie flavor that while may taste good to some, tastes overwhelmingly bitter to me.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Bellflower' is an Oscilloscope Laboratories release. The 50-GB Blu-ray Disc is packaged next to a DVD copy of the film. The movie comes in a rather cumbersome cardboard fold-out which then slips into its own cardboard case. The discs simply have half pockets that they slide into. The back of the case indicates a region free release.
Glodell actually used a camera of his own design to film this movie. It's filmed digitally, but doesn't have that distinctive visual feel to it. The image is somewhere in between digital and the pristine look of 35mm. It's sort of a hybrid. So, it still has the squeaky-clean look of being a digital picture, but also features much more detail than we've come to expect from that type of filming. Faces produces great close-up detail such as errant hairs and pores.
Glodell has intentionally smeared dirt and grime on the lens in numerous shots that may be distracting to some. I was neither distracted nor impressed by it. It's simply a technique that Glodell almost certainly used to comment on the dirty nature of these character's lives. It isn't a problem with the print or transfer, it's supposed to be there. Sadly, all it does is come across as an indie gimmick rather than something that really helps progress or define the story.
Colors are fairly muted, again due to the way the movie was filmed and the filters that were no doubt added on later. The look of the movie changes quite often with yellow filters, and then washed out blue filters. The look is all over the place, which may send some viewers up the wall. Blacks are dark, but can be crushing at times depending on what type of filter is being used. The oranges, reds, and whites of the flames from the flame thrower are the most eye-popping off all the colors. They cut through the film's drab color palette with ferocious ferocity without the slightest hint of banding around the edges.
'Bellflower' definitely has an experimental look to it. A look that you'd only find on an indie film, which made the film festival rounds.
'Bellflower's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix exudes a rawness, just like the video portion did. This isn't a sophisticated mix by any means, but it gets the job done. My one complaint with the movie is that its mumble-core dialogue is routinely lost amongst itself as characters fight, bitch and bicker over one another, often slurring together long lines of dialogue that just come across as unintelligible shouting. This, however, is more likely due to the mumble-core aesthetic of 'Bellflower' and an actual problem with the mix.
LFE is plentiful. Whenever Medusa, their apocalyptic car, roars to life the bass gives of low rumblings of bass. Even the quick bursts of flame thrower fire has a nice low-end sound. There's enough hipster music to go around, as the soundtrack permeates all of the channels. Directionality works well as people yell at each other out of frame. The camera usually swings wildly from one side to another so it's important that the mix keeps characters stationary and where they should be. It's a commendable mix. Not really demo-worthy, but a mix fans will be happy about nonetheless.
I just didn't get the appeal of 'Bellflower.' It's a hipster mess of dingy people who don't shower and drink all day. The tale of lost romance is simply underdone and never feels weighty enough to warrant Woodrow's actions by the film's end. The video and audio are fairly impressive though so fans of the movie may want to check it out on home video. I would say, if you're interested, it's worth a rental.