Culture And Criticism

Sundance Darling 'Bellflower' Is 'The Room' With Flamethrowers

Woodrow (Evan Glodell) is a jilted lover who takes chilling revenge in Bellflower, which shares the same plot thread and uncomfortable intimacy as perennial midnight movie The Room, only with a very different (but equally nihilistic) take on human nature. i i

hide captionWoodrow (Evan Glodell) is a jilted lover who takes chilling revenge in Bellflower, which shares the same plot thread and uncomfortable intimacy as perennial midnight movie The Room, only with a very different (but equally nihilistic) take on human nature.

Oscilliscope Laboratories
Woodrow (Evan Glodell) is a jilted lover who takes chilling revenge in Bellflower, which shares the same plot thread and uncomfortable intimacy as perennial midnight movie The Room, only with a very different (but equally nihilistic) take on human nature.

Woodrow (Evan Glodell) is a jilted lover who takes chilling revenge in Bellflower, which shares the same plot thread and uncomfortable intimacy as perennial midnight movie The Room, only with a very different (but equally nihilistic) take on human nature.

Oscilliscope Laboratories

For its first half, the new indie film Bellflower is wanderlusty mumblecore with a fascinatingly washed-out color palette. But in its hellishly violent and perverse second half, it becomes something else entirely. Though it's speaking the cinematic language of post-apocalyptic thrillers, with pyrotechnics, wide-open spaces and protagonists obsessed with Mad Max, the film (which won raves and a distribution deal at this year's Sundance Film Festival) comes across as a brawnier, angrier version of Tommy Wiseau's infamous 2003 cult curio The Room.

(For a quick primer on the madness that is The Room, check out this 2008 Entertainment Weekly article.)

Consider: Both films follow men who mean nothing but the best for their girlfriends but nevertheless find themselves the victims of cruel infidelity. Woodrow (Glodell) is Wiseau's Johnny without the bizarro vocal inflections, a stand-up gentlemen who is so head-over-heels in love with Milly (Jessie Wiseman, bearing more than a little visual resemblance to Juliette "Lisa" Danielle) that he takes a punch for her on their first date. Almost immediately after catching Milly in the act, Woodrow is seriously injured in a car accident — oh, the injustice of the world! — and things escalate quickly from there.

Tommy Wiseau's The Room, which has gained underground popularity from its unique awfulness, is known to fans by its instantly recognizable dialogue — lines like "You are tearing me apart, Lisa!" and "Oh, hi Mark".

hide captionTommy Wiseau's The Room, which has gained underground popularity from its unique awfulness, is known to fans by its instantly recognizable dialogue — lines like "You are tearing me apart, Lisa!" and "Oh, hi Mark".

Wiseau Films

But it's not the basic outlines of the films that share a kinship as much as the misguided passion of their auteurs. Writer-director-producer-editor-star Evan Glodell (like Wiseau, a multi-multi-hyphenate) is sharing a story you don't need to read the press kit to tell you is intensely personal. He was wronged by someone and spent three years of his life committing his sense of injustice to film (Bellflower was shot in 2008). Glodell wants the world to share his outrage, to look upon him with sympathy and tell him he's better off with his flamethrower than with a woman. In this world, like the world of The Room, the faithful man reenacts the story of Job: completely put upon, while being absolved of any wrongdoing himself.

Glodell is a give-everything-I-have kind of guy. He spent his life savings on Bellflower, using his engineering background to design cameras himself to render the movie's distinctive look. He built the working flamethrower featured in the film and designed his character's apocalypse-proofed car (named "Medusa"). Wiseau threw himself into The Room with similar abandon, but Glodell's worldview is bleaker, more coherent, the work of someone with true demons.

The film, after all, is not really about love lost; it's about masculinity and the ever-present fear of not having enough to display. Woodrow has a bitchin' car, a homemade flamethrower that shoots awesome fireballs and an ungodly tolerance for alcohol, but he's still brought to his knees when his girlfriend has sex with another man. He fears emasculation possibly more than anything else, including the end of the world (because at least he would be prepared for that).

At the end of Bellflower, Woodrow's best friend (Tyler Dawson) delivers his vision for the two of them: a life where they can drive around recklessly in their pimped-out Medusa, taking drugs and firing shotguns at will, pulling into small-town gas stations so locals can stand awestruck at their coolness. And he talks about how true road warriors never need to submit to women; the women must submit to them. The speech is played straight and heartfelt, a utopian ideal.

Does Glodell wish he lived this life? It's difficult to say. It's also difficult to stomach, since we've seen just how submissive the film's actresses are willing to go (and how wild and unhinged Glodell is willing to push his character's darkest, most alpha-male-dominant revenge fantasies). If the whole thing is meant to in fact be a critique of the headstrong ultra-masculine, then I wasn't personally able to separate the text from the subtext, perhaps because I was distracted by the film's deadly seriousness — there are no "Oh, hi Mark" moments here.

I'm concerned about what Glodell is trying to say with a film like this – a film that he, after all, risked everything on — but I'm more concerned about him.

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