BELLFLOWER, a heartfelt story of obsession, friendship, young love gone awry, and an angst-ridden critique of and from Generation Y, is the debut feature from the mad scientist of a filmmaker Evan Glodell. Best friends Woodrow and Aiden spend all of their free time building MAD MAX-inspired flamethrowers and muscle cars in preparation for a global apocalypse. But when Woodrow meets a charismatic young woman named Milly and falls hard in love, he and Aiden quickly join a new group of friends, setting off on a journey of love and hate, betrayal, infidelity, and extreme violence more devastating and fiery than any of their apocalyptic fantasies. Filmed using Glodell's custom-built cameras and showcasing his real-life creations (among them, homemade flamethrowers and the fire-spewing 1972 Buick Skylark, Medusa), BELLFLOWER is a hallucinatory and wholly unique ride.
Oscilloscope Laboratories presents Evan Glodell’s Bellflower on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc in a 1080p/24hz high-def digital transfer.
The film has a very unique look thanks to a homemade camera used to shoot the film. Reading about the equipment used it sounds like the camera is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of various newer and older camera parts, though ultimately information is stored digitally. I can’t really describe the look fully but it has a blown out, almost sepia look to it, with occasional distortions to the image (and it looks like dirt has been smeared on the lens consistently throughout.)
Because of the film’s unique look it’s hard to gauge exactly how well the Blu-ray presents it (this would have been something to see theatrically.) When you get down to it it does look good, with sharp rendering of colours that pop off the screen, especially the reds and oranges of the flamethrower that is basically another character in the film. Blacks look deep and inky and details remain. There’s some compression noise visible in darker sequences but this could be an artifact in the actual source. Sharpness is mostly good but the film can look to have a bit of a haze to it and definition around the edges isn’t strong, but again I suspect this is intentional, or at least how it was shot. Banding is noticeable in a few sequences where the film’s car (named “Medusa”) is shooting smoke behind it, but I would also wager a guess that this could be an issue with the camera.
Since it’s digital there is no damage to speak of, but dirt looks to have either been smeared on the lens in places, or at least picked up during filming. There is also some flickering and other distortions but, again, I suspect this has to do with the camera.
In all it does look good and I suspect this is how it’s supposed to look, but the film’s out-there visual style does make it a little hard to gauge the technical aspects of the disc’s video presentation.
The disc presents both a DTS-HD 2.0 track and a DTS-HD 5.1 surround track. I only listened to the 5.1 surround track.
I would classify this movie as Mumblecore I would think, and one of the annoying aspects to the style/genre is I find it hard to hear because of its low-cost/low-tech limitations. Thankfully this isn’t the case here and it’s a shockingly loud movie at times. Sequences involving the “Medusa” car and the flamethrower present a rather immersive experience, with loud effects that sneak to the rears and a good amount of bass coming from the lower channel. But past these scenes the film is actually a quieter one and is heavy on dialogue. But the sound design is surprisingly complex and there’s some great natural movement between the speakers and I detected some effects coming from the rears. The track is also crystal clear with no distortion or artifacts of any sort. In all a strong presentation.
This is where the disc falters a bit as I really did expect a lot more considering the purely independent of the film, along with the incredible technical aspects to it. Surprisingly there is no commentary but we do get a 24-minute featurette called Behind the Scenes of Bellflower. We learn about the origins of the film (which is unsurprisingly based on the emotions Glodell was feeling after a rather bad break-up) and then putting together the money, cast, and crew after writing the script. With some behind-the-scenes footage we see tests of the various flamethrowers used in the film, and the star of the film, the car known as “Medusa”, and we get alternate takes of some sequences, including one of the film’s more intense sequences, and we then get anecdotes about the film’s screenings, getting picked up for Sundance, and how Sean Combs became an unwitting contributor to the film. It’s a decent enough featurette but I was disappointed that it really skirted over things, and didn’t even mention the camera (it’s shown but that’s about it.) A commentary would have been interesting and actually wish one had been included.
Medusa Rundown is a 10-minute tour of the, I must admit, pretty cool car that appears in the film (and could have taken up to 90% of the film’s budget.) Glodell just goes over the various controls found within the car and all of the features it has, from security cameras to bellowing fire, and gives demonstrations. Unsurprisingly the car is very dangerous and it sounds like it almost killed a few people during and after production, and the fire belching feature has two settings by the sounds of it: somewhat dangerous (used for showing people on the street) and very dangerous (what was used in the film.) He also did some upgrades to it after he sold the film and he shows those off. Does it offer any additional insight into the film? Not really, other than maybe a technical aspect to the props of the film, but it’s still a rather cool feature nonetheless.
The disc then concludes with 8-minutes of outtakes, that are amusing but also manage to show how dangerous that car really was, and then we get a 2-minute theatrical trailer.
Surprisingly slim, and considering all the blood and sweat that you can tell went into this film, I’m a little surprised. I also would have loved more on the camera. Still, the material is pretty good, with the car demonstration possibly being my favourite.
It’s almost impossible to classify Bellflower, but if you were to strip it down I guess you could say it was a romantic-comedy, but it’s hard to think of any other romantic comedy that has muscle cars, flamethrowers, and a shocking amount of violence (whether it’s supposed to be real or not.) It has a bit of a rough start, with some shaky acting, but I think it really starts to come together in the last half. I felt that the central relationship didn’t build up enough in the beginning and I never felt the two lovers (played by Glodell and Jessie Wiseman) had a true connection that warranted what follows the break-up, but the last half, where we experience what Glodell’s character is going through, feels genuine at least, and is incredibly intense. Altogether I don’t know if it entirely works but it looks great, is thoroughly engaging, and is one of the more impressive debuts from a young filmmaker I’ve seen in an incredibly long time.
As to the disc itself, the supplements left me wanting more but it looks and sounds great. All of those fond of the film should feel no fear in picking it up.