Director: Jay Duplass, Mark, Duplass
Writer: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Starring: Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, Elise Muller
Baghead is an anomaly. There is truly no genre it could be classified into, other than “independent”, which I hate to call a genre. I heard about the film from some previews on the Food Network (?), and it seemed up my alley. Four people in a cabin, being stalked by a man with a bag on his head? Aces.
The story follows four friends, loosely separated into couples: Matt and Catherine, Chad and Michelle. They are all actors struggling to get their breakthrough role, and so decide to head out to a cabin in the woods over a weekend to write their own movie to star in. What follows is a relationship drama, as Chad tries to write himself into the movie as Michelle’s boyfriend, but she has shifted her focus to the much sought after Matt. It’s bizarre and uncomfortable, but when the titular character shows up standing in the woods, things become even more bizarre and even more uncomfortable. I won’t give away the rather predictable ending, but instead will actually encourage you to see this movie so I can discuss it more. I disliked the movie, but I’m not sure why.
Visually the movie is much akin to the Blair Witch Project. What I can only assume is a stab at some kind of meta, the film is shot like a low budget documentary, although not by the actors themselves. They simply don’t pay attention to the camera man, through the lazy swipes from person to person in a conversation, and the rapid zooms into someone’s face to get their reaction. I’m painting a sordid picture here, it really wasn’t bad to watch. It’s actually what makes the movie scary. The idea that the audience is treated as another member of the cast, experiencing the events live as they happen.
I’m torn on the writing. On one hand, it is handled sparingly enough to seem real and even improvised. On the other hand, the pace of the movie often lags, because it takes the actors a bit too long to get to the point the audience has already assumed. The relationships sometimes become a bit heavy handed, and the audience is guided too carefully along the journey of each of the characters. This point ties into the acting: a point that took about three points off of the total score, and I can’t put my finger on why. The actors are good. They are natural and believable, the relationships are easy to understand, and the characters are far from static. That said, I simply hated them. There was no redeeming person to root for, there was no couple I had anything invested in, and there was no point that I actually feared for any of the characters lives.
MAKE – What makes the movie is a 20 minute segment in the final act where a genre seems clearly defined: Sparse Horror. Maybe it’s because it’s one of my favorite genres that I identified with it the most, or because it was a chance for the actors to be the biggest and the most genuinely spontaneous. It was actually scary, and was the only segment of the film that I felt on board with the actors, like I could identify with their plight, and really understood where they were at. I also have a penchant for villains who can run…its so much scarier for some reason.
BREAK – What breaks this movie is failure to define a genre. This sounds counterintuitive, because I’ve spent the past while complaining about having my hand held throughout, and am now complaining that I didn’t “get it”. The movie was predictable in its plot, but so unpredictable in its genre that it was difficult to watch. It didn’t come across as a deliberate choice, but rather as sloppy writing. The ending is frustrating and bewildering. I’ll put it this way: Imagine watching Scream, but having the killer end up being Dewey, and Gail totally understands why he did it, so they get married, and Sidney makes jokes about how Dewey tried to kill her at the wedding. You just want a genre to be a genre, not give you a taste of it and then back off. Baghead begins so many plots and so many ideas that it drops, that the ending can’t help but be unfulfilling, and the actors can’t help but be confused. Acting in a romantic comedy is simply different than acting in a romantic drama.
BOTTOM LINE – I think you should see this movie. Yes, I gave it a 3. It’s surely not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it is innovative in its execution, and the directors exhibit some promising storytelling potential. That, and I would love to get someone else’s take on this. I’ve never been so befuddled by a film before.