REVIEWED AS PART OF THE 25TH LEEDS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Two young men question their value in a soulless society, tire of playing it safe and feel emasculated by failed relationships- and so resort to a subculture of alter-egos, violence, and self-destruction. But perhaps what Fight Club was missing was a couple of dragsters converted into fully-functioning flamethrowers…
Best friends Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Durden Dawson) devote their lives to constructing weaponized muscle cars in preparation for an imminent apocalypse. But their current project, the ‘Mother Medusa’, is pushed to the back-burner upon the arrival of the enigmatic Milly (Jessie Wiseman). Soon the two friends are propelled into a world of red- hot envy, engines and vengeance. Part –road movie, part- buddy movie, part-romance, part-revenge. Beautiful, brutal and bruised, but just what is Bellflower? It’s a question you’ll still be asking as you stagger, hungover, back into the daylight and drudgery of the real world. There is nothing quite like it, with its homage to the cars-and-chaos action films of the ‘80s (with Mad Max being an explicit muse) proudly displayed like a hood ornament. Throw in grindhouse, dystopia and this year’s neo- noir throwback, Drive and we’re ready to hit the road.
At first, our slacker mechanics are your typical best buds headed for both California and the big time (although whether their peppering every sentence with a ‘dude’ or ‘totally’ is endearing or enraging is a matter of opinion) and the invitation for the viewer to share their small-town inertia is impossible to resist. But, riding shotgun with uncertainty on the open road, it’s a shock just how quickly, and violently, things escalate. Everything burns. Everything; as fire wipes the slate clean, the promises, the past, the photographs. Everything burns. And it’s precisely this use of fire- the most primal of instincts, destructive but purifying- that asserts the men’s masculinity. Rather than scream and shout, they let loose with home-made flame-throwers and blast their frustrations and frailties into the cold desert sky. They are not leaders, just two new additions to a motley crew of loose wires and short fuses; and you just know that when the time comes, it’s gonna be explosive.
For writer/director/actor Glodell, following the well- worn path of self-sacrifice meant selling all his personal belongings and moving into an abandoned wing of an office building. It also meant custom-building his own camera, infusing each shot with a hallucinatory halo – like gazing through a gas leak. After a raft of music videos and shorts to his name, his feature-length directorial debut is sure to propel him to a wider audience. And Jonathan Keevil’s superbly sombre acoustic soundtrack stings and soothes like a swig of whisky.
There are minor flaws, mere scratches in the paintwork; a lull in the second act is borne from a muddled montage of unconstrained aggression and a continuity error shows characters driving home, despite having just swapped their car for a bike in a previous scene. But rarely has a film ended on such a dangerous, dizzying high. Woodrow’s plan for their future melts into an extended fantasy sequence; a sort of petrolhead ‘Project Mayhem’ to ensure their posterity – including the most ostentatious of alter egos and, in probably the film’s most striking scene, a mushroom cloud roaring on the horizon. You can practically smell the flames licking away at ‘Mother Medusa’, awaiting rebirth as the fieriest of Phoenixes.