In the French language there is a particularly evocative suffix, -atre. There is no equivalent in English, but applied to a color, yellow, for instance, it bespeaks the sickly quality of that color. And it is that sickly yellow that permeates BELLFLOWER, a crushingly dull look at the lives of crushingly dull people, two of whom are overly invested in the coming apocalypse. The rest are just dully floating through life without much more of a stimulus response than that shown by an amoeba prodded by a pipette, and with just about as much emotion.
The two are Woodrow, the sweet one, and Aiden, the difficult one (writer/director Evan Glodell and Tyler Dawson). Transplants to Los Angeles from the Midwest who were deeply affected by the MAD MAX movies when at an impressionable age. It prompted their move to Los Angeles, but it also prompted them to begin weaponing-up for the dystopian future depicted in the iconic film series. There is very little else that arouses interest in the guys, whose primary form of communication is the word dude intoned with a surprising number of variations. Little except for women, in particular Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a plucky blonde imp who bests Woodrow in a cricket-eating contest at a local bar. Their romance begins with an impulse trip to Texas, and the most dangerous restaurant that Woodrow knows there, and ends with a lackadaisical betrayal that spurs an anger response in Woodrow that seems more than perfunctory, but fails to catch any kind of fire cinematically. And this is ironic considering the weapon of choice for both Woodrow and Aiden is the flamethrower, dubbed the Medusa, for which they scavenge and scrimp and save, and to which they devote that portion of their lives not pledged to the Medusa-mobile, with its own pyrotechnic aspirations. The result is not unimpressive, with flames belching forth with the proper exuberance of a sublimated phallic image that is an unexpectedly ironic metaphor for the sizzling bromance going on with Woodrow and Aiden.
This tale of sleepwalkers, desperate yet entropic in their thrummed-up enthusiasms that have at the core crushing boredom, is filmed with ambivalent focus and dirt on the lens. The hand-held camera, the pernicious focus on tiny little details set in defiantly non-composed frames, the flat, monotony of the oppressively harsh Southern California sun, combine to create an experience that is akin to sea-sickness rather than the art-hour pretensions at work here. No challenging exploration of modern disaffection with reality, it is instead the painfully slow unfolding of a pointless interlude congealing into itself and leaving an unpleasant scum of a scab.
Ambitiously disappointing, BELLFLOWER is an idea for a film that got lost somewhere between inspiration and everything that followed. So determined to depict the emptiness within the two main characters, it has become the thing it portrays.