Baghead is a new mumblecore film that mixes comedy with horror. Comedy and horror you probably understand, but unless you’ve been hanging around the Slamdance Film Festival “mumblecore” is likely a bit of a mystery. It is, by definition, true independent film; shot in sequence on digital video cameras with improvised dialogue and a do-it-yourself philosophy. Most feature twenty-something nonprofessional actors and a production value that makes the Dogme 95 films look like slick Michael Bay movies.
Among the best known proponents of mumblecore are the Duplass Brothers the team behind 2005’s breakout hit The Puffy Chair. Baghead is their sixth film in six years.
The action begins when four wannabe actors—Chad (Steve Zissis), Catherine (Elise Muller), Matt (Ross Partridge) and Michelle (Greta Gerwig)—watch as their friend Jett Gartner’s movie wins an award at the Los Angeles Underground Film Festival. Envious of his success the four figure they can write something even better than their friend’s award winning film. “If Jett can do it,” says the cocky Matt, “we can do it.”
They decide to hide out at a cabin in Big Bear, California to brainstorm a script that will kick start their careers and make them stars. Soon, though, things take a strange turn as a person with an old brown paper bag over their head begins stalking them. In the beginning they think “baghead” is one of the guys playing a practical joke, but when the friends start disappearing the mysterious figure becomes much more menacing.
Baghead is kind of a mindbender of a po-mo concept. In it four real unknown actors star in a movie about four fictional unknown actors. The fictional actors decide to make a horror movie about a guy with a bag over his head, while the real actors are starring in a horror movie about a guy with a bag over his head. It’s like that famous M.C. Escher painting of the hands drawing one another; one can’t exist with out the other.
The framework of the story is classic mumblecore, which values realistic personal relationships over and above the genre aspects of the plot. The sexual tension between the four characters—it’s kind of a romantic quadrangle—frays nerves and opens the door to the kind of atmosphere of mistrust that allows the mysterious baghead to really get under all their skins. The build-up to the climax is slow, but focuses more on the interpersonal dealings of the four than the stranger with a grocery bag on his head outside.
Like the great low budget horror films of the 1970s Baghead proudly uses a documentary technique to draw the viewer in and place them smack dab in the middle of the action. The low-fi production only offers up low-fi thrills, but the interaction of the characters is natural and interesting enough to earn Baghead a recommendation.
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