Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 05, 2011 9:48 am 
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Heartbreak like apocalypse

From Sundance comes an inventive super-low-budget horror flick with cult possibilities about a couple of average young men in Oxnard and Ventura, California with pyromaniac tendencies planning for the apocalypse whose lives take a weird turn when love enters for one of them, shifting to violence hinted at in the opening frames.

The two are Aiden (Tyler Dawson) and Woodrow (Evan Glodell). Woodrow and his new gf meet cute by engaging in a Jackass-style barroom competition to win $50 eating live crickets, which Milly (Jessie Wiseman) wins. The pair run off to Texas to celebrate their new-found relationship by going to a really horrible, scary place to eat day-old meatloaf on their first date. This is a world of the wild and directionless awesome-dude-sweet twenty-somethings who live by craziness and dares. Except that Aiden and Woodrow have a direction: they're making flame-throwers. For a really badass car, for the apocalypse, for their "Medusa" gang. Their vision of the future comes from Mad Max, it would seem. This movie's special charm comes from its wealth of dangerous gadgets, which the filmmakers put together themselves.

A complication is that Milly apparently already has a male roommate, Mike (Vincent Grashaw). What's going on? What are the ground rules? There's also another girl, Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), who is drawn to both Woodrow and Aiden. What with the heavy drinking, the partying, the occasional fights, the hopped up car and the flame throwers, there's chaos in the air even though the two buddies are good-natured, especially the affable Woodrow. The other characters are wild cards in this deck and after an accident, Woodrow himself changes.

Bellflower takes quite a long time to get going on its climax. Along the way it explores relationships in a richer way than you'd get in any standard issue apocalypse or horror flick. It plays around with genres in a different, interesting style that blends charm and nihilism, obviousness and the unexpected. In the last half hour the editing becomes deliberately fractured and disturbing, the action turning from affably macho to atavistic and weird, continually flipping back and forth, music (by Jonathan Keevil) delicately ominous, mayhem everywhere.

In addition to having its style set by the two buddies' fascination with fire, the movie has a "hot" look, with warm and intense colors enhanced by color filters and specially made lenses constructed by the DIY-inclined filmmakers, who also fabricated all the flamethrowers and high-horsepower hot rod stuff that makes up Woodrow and Aiden's slightly scary set of boy toys. There's a menace to the macho gadgetry and the drunkenness that fires up the first hour with edgy suspense heightened by the men's silly niceness with women combined with a willingness to haul off and sock anyone who rubs them the wrong way.

These dudes come from the Midwest but what do they do here in Southern California and where does their money come from? Those questions are never answered nor does their visible world extend beyond the barroom, the unruly pad, and the highway. It's a narrow world that would feel quite artificial if it were not so tactile and flammable. It's almost as if the men are piecing things together but their DIY methods are flawed and things are just falling more apart. The cycling fragmentation gets a little tiresome at the end. But the concept isn't just great. So are the photography, rough and gorgeous, by Joel Hodge, and the acting by all concerned. Look out, there's a gang of new talents here.

This is writer-director-coeditor-coproducer Evan Glodell's first feature film. As Aidan, Tyler Dawson really feels like Woodrow's best friend. It's Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer for a new, ugly age, heading out for the territory with blood and fire streaming behind them and goofy affection in their stoned faces.

Bellflower rolls out to US theaters starting in New York and Los Angeles August 5, 2011 and reaching northern California August 19. For a release schedule see the film website. The distributor is the indie-specializing new company Oscilloscope Laboratories. Oscilloscope's 41 titles so far recently include Dark Days, As a Tree Falls, Meek's Cutoff and Howl. They also have the rights to Lynne Ramsey's 2011 Cannes sensation We Need to Talk About Kevin .


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