Diustin Guy Defa’s Bad Fever stars the Southern mumblecore-affiliated filmmaker Kentucker Audley as Eddie, a lonely, seemingly autistic aspiring standup comedian in a cold, anonymous midsized Southern city. In a performance that’s some kind of remarkable, he stammers, rephrases himself, restarts, looks down, tries to keep up with a running mental monologue, loses his thread, and peppers his speech (and practice standup routines) with “I will say”s and slightly hifalutin syntax that would be lightly comical, if he could get a sentence out without looking down, swallowing his self-doubt, and continuing, short of breath and probably in a different tense.
I’ve long said that if the mumblecore films are linked by anything, it’s an interest in inarticulacy; Bad Fever pushes your average self-doubting stammers into the realm of pathology—DIY miserablism. It’s hard to watch—at least partly because you can’t figure out why you’re watching it. Current microindie axiom Eléonore Hendricks co-stars as a drifter who leads Eddie on, recruiting him as a figure of mean-spirited fun in the tame fetish videos she makes and mails to a dude in Idaho Falls; as he becomes hopelessly attached, and she curtly sidesteps her growing guilt, it’s possible Defa intends the film as a self-critique of the indie film’s sideshow aspect. I said “possible.”
Tully’s destabilizing script concerns three damaged brothers: Catechism Cataclysm’s Robert Longstreet as the fey, devout eldest; Onur Tukel as the artist, who paints watercolors of high school football players self-mutilating and eating shit; and Tully himself, as the prodigal high school football star who returns just as a cantankerous plumber upsets the family’s façade of equilibrium.
The film is a deeply sincere quirkfest, a bit forceful (and obvious, like puzzle-missing-the-last-piece obvious) about the traumatic expectations of religion and high school sports, but it’s wonderfully weird. Tully, in Jesus beard, puts on aviators and the hood of his windbreaker, and walks stiff-legged out to public parks, where, in abrupt deadpan voice, he hustles strangers in tennis, hoops and soccer; watching this hairy, withholding indie filmmaker hit jumper after jumper is strangely indelible.
While these charismatic douchebags romance a couple of beer-chugging blondes, they’re also making a car, “The Medusa,” a custom “apocalypse car” and a shared dream ever since repeated boyhood viewings of The Road Warrior. And flamethrowers: director Evan Glodell makes full use of the widescreen frame the first time the boys test out their homemade flamethrower. Dude. Dude!
Glodell goes heavy on the 70s exploitation-film filters and dirt-smeared lenses; Bellflower looks great, like a much higher-budget homage—well, at any rate, it looks different than most SXSW films that star the writer-director-editor-producer and have most of the crew doubling as cast members. They get a lot of the money onscreen, partly because they’re so cool-dude toolsy IRL. But the boys are in such thrall to their toys that the movie becomes a spiraling, dream-or-reality cautionary tale about stunted male camaraderie, made explicit when Tyler Dawson, in a life-of-the-party turn as the tragically loyal wild-card friend, delivers a Mad Max-inspired bros-before-hos rant. But Bellflower doesn’t have quite as much ironic distance as it might want—not when the filmmaker casts himself as the sensitive soul hurt by one girl and rebounding with another. The film is a readymade cult object: the Medusa made an appearance at the film’s afterparty (where, if Twitter is to be believed, several prominent indie film figures got drunk and/or participated in a cricket-eating competition).
Tomorrow: Harmony Korine is a doucecock.