A likely cult hit among horror fans and a gleeful affront to more delicate sensibilities, “Bellflower” takes the young-adult romantic-comedy blueprint and subjects it to a kind of devilish origami, creating a disturbed and disturbing parable about young male fantasies, fears and avoidance of adulthood. Theatrical possibilities are limited, given the pointed violence and lack of narrative orthodoxy, but a solid, bloody afterlife seems to be a no-brainer.
Helmer Evan Glodell, who also plays the progressively unhinged lead character, Woodrow, opens his film with what seems like a trailer: A series of quick glimpses of some unexplained violent incident briefly throws the viewer a curve. Pic then shifts gears to the story proper, but the essential technique of disconnection — between characters, actions and imagery — continues throughout “Bellflower” and makes for a fractured mosaic of impulses and perceptions.
Even though d.p. Joel Hodge’s lighting imposes an air of menace from the start, Woodrow and best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson) are presented, initially, as your basic knuckleheads: guys with no visible means of support, who drink too much and think mostly about sex. Their minds are also occupied with unusual and combustible projects, such as firing a shotgun at a flaming propane tank dangling from a wire 10 feet from the ground, building a flamethrower out of vacuum parts and a pressurized tank of gasoline, and dreaming up a fire-spewing muscle car that they can drive around after the apocalypse.
Any Freudian connection between their frustrated sexuality and their pyromania seems well founded, although Woodrow soon finds a cure in Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a nubile blonde who beats him at a barroom contest of cricket-eating and then runs off with him to Texas for some bad food and budding romance.
“Bellflower,” named for the Southern California street (the film was shot in Oxnard and Ventura), is set within a fractious community of cheap housing and fringe-dwellers. Pic mirrors the extremes of the young male psyche (perhaps the old one, too): In the first stages of young love, Woodrow’s life is sweet. But Milly has a roommate, Mike (Vincent Grashaw) with whom things seem platonic, until Woodrow catches them in bed and the film takes a turn. To describe that turn as downward is a gross understatement.
Glodell takes time getting where he’s going, but the performers are all good, notably the promising Rebekah Brandes as Courtney, sort of a nymphet with a .45 who vacillates between Aiden and Woodrow. Wiseman is also strong, adding oomph to the relationship between Woodrow and Milly, which is highly charged and wildly out of control, even though one is never quite sure whether the mayhem is in Woodrow’s mind or not. At any rate, “Bellflower’s” more meaningful romance is between Woodrow and Aiden — the movie’s Huck and Jim, its Butch and Sundance — who represent the one familiar trope in an otherwise unpredictable film.
Tech credits are low-budget but artful, notably Hodge’s lensing.