Baghead Review – The Duplass Brothers Stock a Cabin in the Woods With Lots of Tension, but Not Enough Horror” width=”560″/>
Baghead is being billed as the first mumblecore horror movie… but it’s more mumblecore than horror. Even the distributor has realized that anyone going into this flick expecting chills is going to walk out severely disappointed and so they’ve changed their key art from horror-oriented shots of the titular Baghead to a sillier, but more accurate, Bob, and Carol, and Ted, and Alice… style poster that screams, “Sex comedy!” It’s too bad, because the mumblecore aesthetic is particularly suited to horror and for 80 percent of their movie, the Duplass Brothers are dishing out maximum unease to the audience. But in the end, they’re too ironic for something that requires the sincerity of a horror flick and things veer sharply into romance territory. Nothing wrong with that — the romance they wind up making is perfectly good — but it still feels like an opportunity lost.
Mumblecore, for those not up on their Indiewire reading, is basically America’s version of Lars von Trier’s Dogma 95 aesthetic that emphasized shooting on video, in available light, with little to no artifice (no murders, no period pieces, no score on the soundtrack). It’s full of stern European commandments like “Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden.” But Dogma 95 got too much critical flack and so when American kids wanted to make their own poverty cinema, they named it mumblecore, which basically means that everything is shot on digital video, the actors are usually non-pros, and things are done on the cheap. The Duplass Brothers first ventured into mumblecore territory with their debut feature, The Puffy Chair, and they go there again for Baghead.
The film is about four actors who are so lousy, they can’t
even horn their way into a lame after-party for a crummy film festival.
Frustrated, they decide to go up to a mountain cabin and write a
mumblecore movie that’ll give them their big break. There’s frustrated
Chad (Steve Zissis), who looks like a young John Belushi and is
desperately smitten with Michelle (Greta Gerwig), the resident 22 year
old hottie. Meanwhile, Michelle wants to go to bed with rugged, older
director Matt (Ross Partridge), the property of his aging-gracelessly
ex-girlfriend Catherine (Elise Muller). They go to the cabin, drink a
lot, try to sleep with each other… and then a guy with a bag over his
head begins to stalk them.
The movie generates insane amounts of
unease because you know that the long, absurdist exchanges (“What’s
up?” “What’s up with you?” “Nothing, nothing.” “Nothing, nothing.
What’s that?” “I don’t know.” “I don’t know either.”) are going to end
in copious showers of gore. But the Duplass Brothers want to stay true
to their romantic dramedy roots and, as all physicists know, two movie
genres can’t exist in the same space at the same time and so,
ultimately, the promising horror movie is aborted in favor of the more
familiar romance. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s a fine romance. But
the movie’s set-up is so good, and the low budget tension is so skillfully
cranked up that when the rug is yanked out from underneath your feet,
you’ll get a headache thinking of what could have been. Indie film
fans: Seek it out. Horror fans: Avoid.