Everyone needs a hobby. Some people read vampire novels. Some people play video games. Some people, like the two main characters of the film “Bellflower,” prepare for the coming apocalypse by building an arsenal of homemade weapons and heavily armed cars ready to come out on top in the event of “Mad Max”-style gang warfare.
Believe it or not, “Bellflower” is actually (kind of) a love story about two friends obsessed with the post-apocalyptic world. Woodrow (director and writer Evan Glodell) is a timid, sensitive type and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) is a charmingly obnoxious bro who forces Woodrow to meet a girl named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) in a contest at a bar to see which of them can eat the most crickets.
The first act of the movie chronicles the blissful days when Woodrow asks Milly out and they drive from Los Angeles to somewhere in Texas to find “the cheapest, nastiest, scariest place” to eat (which, along with the crickets, sums up Milly’s personality in a nutshell). Though cliché, the story is charming and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The film then cuts well into the future, with the only indication of the passage of time being that Woodrow has grown an epic beard, at which point their relationship comes to a well-foreshadowed end.
In addition to the characters’ obsession with the apocalypse, “Bellflower” distinguishes itself through its unique visual style. Many shots are saturated with orange light, depth-of-field effects often keep the focus on one character by drastically blurring everything else around them. Dirt and grime accumulate on the lenses of the cameras as the film progresses.
Some quick cuts give the audience the bare minimum of information, while other scenes are as slow and deliberate as a Jim Jarmusch film. It’s clear a great deal of effort was put into giving the film a careless, indie aesthetic that absolutely works. The setting complements the grimy visual style, as most of the film takes place in an unnamed lower-middle-class suburb that could easily be mistaken for somewhere in Middle America if not for a nearby beach.
Part of the film’s appeal is how it takes the viewer for a ride through its own apocalyptic wasteland of a plot, shifting from charming, predictable love story to something else entirely. Suffice to say there are two movies contained in “Bellflower,” and they couldn’t be more different from one another. About halfway through, Woodrow gets into an accident, suffering brain damage as a result, and the rest of the film unfolds in a strange and nearly nonlinear fashion.
The filmmakers achieved their unique visual style by constructing some of their own camera setups just as Woodrow and Aiden craft their own weapons, and the parallel works well for the film as a whole. Like their weaponized car Mother Medusa, “Bellflower” is a weapon of mass destruction: It lulls the viewer into a false sense of security with its off-kilter love story and then proceeds straight off the deep end.
But it’s far from the perfect crime. “Bellflower” becomes tiresome towards the end, having pushed the envelope a touch too far. Once you get it, it’s not hard to figure out where the movie will end. When a film takes itself seriously enough to be described as an apocalyptic love story, some heavy-handedness is inevitable.
“Bellflower” is a no-budget “500 Days of Summer” that substitutes greeting cards for post-apocalypse armaments and light humor for sheer weirdness. It’s beautiful and dangerous, though artistically indulgent and not for the faint of heart.