The combustible elements of "Bellflower" — male aggression, fractured love, one tricked-out muscle car and a homemade flamethrower — get a cinematically confident stirring in writer-director-star Evan Glodell's ambitiously gritty debut feature.
With American independent filmmaking all too often a ready punching bag in today's cinéaste culture, this frequently dazzling, eccentric portrait of mutually assured destruction is that most delirious of combos: charmingly funny and emotionally terrifying.
The movie centers on grungy, jokey roommates/besties Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson). By day they indulge post-apocalyptic "Mad Max" fantasies by building flamethrowers and souping up a rubber-burner they call Medusa. Nighttime unleashes their hard-partying "Jackass" side.
One night the guys make some new friends, and girl-shy Woodrow hits it off with a tough, funny, curvaceous blond named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) — their first date is a whiskey-fueled, trouble-seeking road trip to Texas. But when their tenderly needling romance leads to a bad break, the specter of a scorched-earth response tips "Bellflower" into nail-biter territory.
Laced with believable camaraderie and tactile psychological dread, and stunningly shot to achieve a burnt-colored, beautifully saturated and smeary SoCal haze courtesy of specially created camera lenses, Glodell's film has the revving power of a head-trip nightmare that traps you into imagining its darkest corners.
Its mood-sustaining issues are almost negligible, since the mood "Bellflower" engineers is wholly its own: a dirt-flecked, bloody youthscape of insecure hedonism, both passionate and deranged.
If you care about the state of the homegrown indie, check out this gonzo effort.
"Bellflower." MPAA rating: R for disturbing violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles.