Baghead Written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass Starring Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig and Elise Muller Rated R *7.5*
Goes well with: Mutual Appreciation, Friday the 13th, The Puffy Chair
Mumblecore, the favorite genre of film geeks and hipsters everywhere, may be moving toward a more popular market share than what the Staff Picks shelves of independent DVD stores typically provide. For the uninitiated, the genre's films are character-heavy and made on the cheap by aspiring filmmakers with a camera, some angst and a story to tell. They're often about the real-life dramas that are part of living a hipster life in one's 20s and 30s (which usually means having sex, breaking up, being depressed). The films are talky, and much of the dialogue is improvised.
Mumblecore is inexpensive, creative and often very smart, and while there's been no conscious effort to create a mumblecore movement, as it were, many of the leading artists associated with the genre, including Mark and Jay Duplass, the writer/director team, and Greta Gerwig, the mumblecore “It” girl, have crossed each other's paths on multiple projects.
The Duplass brothers are considered two of mumblecore's founding fathers, having made the strange, awkward and sweet film The Puffy Chair a couple of years ago. With their latest, Baghead, they've created something very different: the first mumblecore horror film. It succeeds in a number of ways—it's very much true to its cerebral, ironic roots, and it also manages to be, at times, really scary.
Four struggling L.A. actors catch an art-house movie at a film festival and decide that auditioning and working as extras isn't paying dividends, so they head up to an isolated cabin in the woods to write their own screenplay. Matt (Ross Partridge) is the ringleader, followed by Chad (Steve Zissis), Michelle (Gerwig) and Catherine (Elise Muller).
But it's not simple. Chad has a crush on Michelle, who is dying to get Matt into bed. Matt and Michelle have a history, and while he's ready to let it go, she'd like to give things another shot.
For Matt, this is the opportunity he's been waiting for, but for his friends, it's just another chance to get laid. Even when he comes up with an idea—making a horror movie about a crazy dude who wears a bag over his head and stalks his victims through the forest—everyone else would rather get hammered and get down than try to further their careers. They have serious relationship issues that take precedent—until, of course, they're suddenly confronted with a real dude wearing a bag over his head carrying a knife. Which puts things into perspective in a hurry.
By constructing four very real characters, who are at times self-absorbed or shallow, the Duplass brothers have raised the stakes much higher than in a standard slasher flick, because even if we don't always like them, by the time they're in real danger, we're invested in them. It's a clever, film that shifts from an ironic little drama, in which relationships and self-identity are terrifying, to an intense horror movie. The slasher-film clichés are all there, but they're acknowledged and, basically, stabbed. And the build-up really works. Which is good, because, otherwise, the film would be little more than spending a weekend in a house full of narcissistic, self-loathing actors.
But, on second thought, what's scarier than that?