Bellflower starts out like any number of recent film-festival sensations, with a bunch of awkward white 20-somethings aimlessly sitting around dingy apartments and bars and engaging in tentative flirtations. It continues in that vein for its first half, exploring the sweet and slightly manic romance between the introverted Woodrow (writer-director Evan Glodell) and the more outgoing Milly (Jessie Wiseman), who forge an instant connection during a cricket-eating contest. Glodell does a great job of portraying the heady rhythms of new love, as Woodrow and Milly forsake all other obligations to spend as much time with each other as possible.
When he’s not busy falling head over heels for Milly, Woodrow spends his time with his best buddy Aiden (Tyler Dawson) constructing post-apocalyptic weapons including a flamethrower and a Mad Max-style attack car. At first the pair’s hobby is endearingly quirky, but something sinister is clearly lurking just around the corner, as hinted in a quick opening montage of disturbing images, and at about the halfway point the movie takes a turn for the dark and surreal. It’s a credit to Glodell and his collaborators that the sudden swerve into an almost completely different genre doesn’t feel any more jarring than it should, since the characters and their relationships have been so successfully captured at the beginning.
There’s such a natural ease to the interactions in that first part of the movie that it’s almost disappointing that things don’t continue in a more low-key, character-based vein, but Glodell uses the empathy he’s built up by that point to make the descent into violence and anger that much more harrowing. Even when the dreamlike storytelling gets a little too muddled toward the end, the movie still looks stunning, thanks to the cinematography by Joel Hodge, using custom cameras designed and built by Glodell himself (who also created Woodrow and Aiden’s weapons and vehicles). The three main stars also keep the action emotionally grounded, even as it spirals downward into increasingly unhinged acts. It’s a little easier to grasp the character-based romance at the start, but Bellflower’s darker moments manage to prove that love can be every bit as apocalyptic as giant fire-spewing cars.