Sundance - Baghead (2008)


Baghead is not a horror film. And yet, at some moments, it sort of is.
More specifically, it's a movie about four wannabe filmmakers (two guys and two girls, of course) who head off to a cabin to collaborate on their first indie film project. The plan is to spend a few days just writing, like all those fancy screenwriters always claim to do. But one of the foursome brings along a lot of alcohol, and there's all sort of sexual tension being batted silently (if none-too-subtly) around the cabin -- and then one of the gang recommends they make ...a horror movie! They already have the cabin, so all they need is a killer. And what would be easier / cheaply creepier than a guy with a bag on his head?

The film is called Baghead, and if you think I'm trying to sell it to you as a horror movie, stop. It's not. Except that it actually does get a little bit creepy towards the arrival of act III ... but if I explained exactly why and how it gets "a little bit creepy," then I'd be spoiling some of the fun. It's most definitely not your typical "four folks in the woods" concept, but I'm betting the horror fans will still get a kick out of Baghead -- mainly because it's just a good little flick.

Aside from a few side characters, Baghead is a four-person story. The guys are Nick, the studly leader, and Chad, the slightly nerdy sweet guy. The gals are Katherine, former flame of Nick's, and Michelle, the dream girl of Chad. (Got all that? Good. Because it gets a lot more
complicated.) None of the characters seem all that particularly bright (or even focused on the screenplay), but there's no denying that the directors and the actors are students of basic human behavior.

Much of the chatty stuff in Baghead feels like you're eavesdropping on a juicy conversation, one that's not too deep, but certainly amusing enough to hear. The four leads are all very believable in a 'normal schmo' sort of way, which is absolutely essential to a (very) low-budget indie flick like this. One weak link or one over-actor can sink the whole ship, so hats off to actors Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Elise Muller, and the scene-stealing Greta Gerwig.

Written and directed by the Duplass brothers, who last gave us the very charming The Puffy Chair, Baghead is a sly poke at indie filmmaking, a non-stop roller-coaster of sexual and romantic politics, and (yes) a slightly scary thriller when all is said and done. Plus it's funny, it packs a few unexpected surprises, and it's just as entertaining as movies that cost 50 times its budget. It's a fairly "talky" exercise, but when most of the dialog is interesting and/or amusing, I don't really see how that's a problem.

Word is that Mark and Jay Duplass are about to move on to bigger things with NBC and Universal, and I say hooray for the little guy(s). If the brothers can maintain their low-key, witty, insightful, and impressively naturalistic approach -- while using much bigger budgets and a lot more resources -- then I call that a success story worth congratulating.