Leave it to young men between twenty and thirty years old to think the name “Lord Humongous” might have significance beyond being an inside joke. That is essentially the premise put forth by Bellflower, a loud and clangy first film from writer-director-actor Evan Glodell. “Lord Humongous cannot be defied” are the first words we see onscreen, after the title and a sequence showing scenes from the film in backwards fast-motion. The quote is attributed to Lord Humongous himself. Anybody can get the joke. But the problem remains that Mr. Glodell has made a film that is, basically, entirely self-attributed.
Glodell plays Woodrow, who lives with his best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson), in a deadbeat California suburb. Their passions are almost as affected as their names; in anticipation of the coming apocalypse, both young men build flame-throwers, guns, and cars that will allow them to run triumphant after the world ends. Their lives are debased in a pattern reminiscent of Harmony Korine’s work, though with a less obtuse sense of humor. They drink, smoke pot, walk around shirtless and call one another “dude” often enough to create a new idiom. But once they meet two girls, Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) at a local bar, Woodrow falls fast in love (with Milly) and their lives and routines of building cool stuff get somewhat sidetracked. It gets even more sidetracked after Woodrow storms out on an unfaithful Milly, rides his motorcycle down the street, and gets rammed by a car. But then, it the grand tradition of movie characters who have come near death or suffered a serious injury and gone back to their lives, Glodell finds it useful to make the narrative a little weirder. And very bloody.
The film starts off with the interesting dichotomy of when boys-play—the flamethrowers, cars and dudes—becomes something corrosive and disturbing. But Glodell only skims this point, instead zoning in on the most obvious metaphor possible; that Woodrow and Aiden’s visions of the apocalypse is mirrored in the turbulence of falling in love and trying to hold on to friendship. He then shakes it up with some of the mind-trip, reality-or-fantasy shenanigans that have made other recent films, such as Inception and Black Swan, so successful, while the manipulative tendencies that come as baggage with this type of narrative are never toned down.
For these reasons, nothing in Bellflower feels sincere. The mechanics on display in the film, including all the gadgets Woodrow and Aiden build, look impressive, but do not feel sincere. It does not feel sincere when we see close-ups of the street sign reading “Bellflower Ave.” It does not feel sincere when we see a freeze frame of Woodrow being punched in the face by a mean Texan with the nerve to insult his girlfriend. It does not feel sincere when we see blood running down Woodrow’s shirt as he walks away from his girlfriend’s house. On the level of acting, the only performer with real conviction is Rebekah Brandes, who gives Courtney, caught in the middle of a bad situation, a sense of mystery and spunk that is not communicated through overblown gestures and mimicry. But even she gets stuck with possibly the most insincere scene in the film, when she screams at her roommate—whom we have never met or heard of—to move, before slapping her to the ground. All the violence in the film feels like something out of an arty comic book rather than its intended effect: fragments from a brain damaged fantasy.
Yet apparently, none of this will matter in the visual climate we live in. The film is not so much nihilistic as fashionably cynical. It feels produced by people who don’t see any point in growing up, but do see a point in being hip to and mocking of that same worldview. In its irony, its cynicism, its whoa-what-are-we-watching formula, this is a film that will be granted a large audience. But it will be one that won’t be able to admit that there is only a certain point you can bring self-reflexive cynicism to before it becomes something genuinely functionless, representative of genuinely nothing. Nothing other than the fact that this current generation of young people is not humongous; it is the most mediocre generation in human history.