Chances are you don’t know who the Duplass Brothers are yet. They directed the underrated indie comedy Cyrus last year which didn’t break them out as hoped. It’s likely that they will have a mainstream breakout hit soon with Jason Segel starrer Jeff who lives at Home, but for the moment they remain obscure pioneers of the so called ‘mumblecore’ movement which also includes directors Lynn Shelton and Aaron Katz. Mumblecore is typically characterised by character based drama following middle class twenty somethings and their everyday relationships and baffling encounters with the modern world. The films are heavily indebted to Lars Von Trier’s Dogme 95 manifesto with their use of natural lighting and existing locations. Baghead is a film the Duplass Brothers made in 2008 before Cyrus and is an attempt to mix the conventions of mumblecore with a modern slasher flick. The results are not as clever as they think they are.
The film begins with frustrated wannabe filmmakers Chad (Steve Zissis) and Matt (Ross Partridge) watching and sniggering during the latest pretentious arthouse flick during an underground film festival in LA. They are accompanied by Steve’s crush Michelle (current indie it girl Greta Gerwig) and Catherine (Elise Muller) Matt’s on off girlfriend. Deciding that they can make a film much better than anything they witnessed at the festival the four of them head of to Chad’s uncle’s cabin in the woods to come up with a screenplay that will give all of them the break they need. Things get complicated when Michelle rejects Chad’s advances and decides she likes Matt and Catherine gets jealous of the whole situation. Attempts to come up with a workable idea come to nought and end up in drunken flirtation. Then one night Michelle has a dream about seeing a man with a bag over his head running through the woods and goes to tell the group. Matt is enthused and thinks he has found their winning idea all about a killer with a bag over his head. After his idea is met with disdain, Baghead ends up showing up in the woods and at their windows scaring the life out of them.
Truthfully it’s a pretty good idea but doesn’t really live up to the premise. The problem with the film is it never decides what it wants to be. Is it a quirky romantic relationship drama? A satire of the current state of independent film or an out and out horror film? Baghead does not really commit to any of these themes and instead ends up as a bit of a non starter. Having said that the film does have some fairly nice scares and the low budget aesthetic does give the whole thing a nice grimy late seventies horror feel. I could have done without the overly obvious handheld camera work and the frequent zooms in and out and sudden out of focus shots, I know it's low budget but you would think they would learn to operate a camera.
The cast are clearly having a lot of fun in this as it seems like a largely improvised script and apart from a delightful Greta Gerwig they don’t really register as anything other than the struggling actors that they are playing anyway. None of them has anything approaching the charisma of even the dead meat in the Final Destination films. Chad for example is supposed to be the funniest guy Matt knows, but you never get this in the performance. Steve just comes across as the lonely sad sack present in hundreds of other independent films. Quite often in Baghead, it's hard to predict what is going to happen next and there are red herrings galore as to who is playing the prank, if there is a prank or if there really is someone out there in the woods with murder on their mind. I quite liked this feeling whilst watching it but come the last twenty minutes when there is a big reveal it just feels like a wasted opportunity and worst of all the whole thing feels smug. The Duplass Brothers seem to be saying “Look how clever we are with our ironic horror film” but the whole thing has been done before and better in the Scream franchise as well as the little seen Behind The Mask – The Rise of Leslie Vernon. You get the feeling the Duplass Brothers have nothing but contempt for the low budget independent horror filmmakers out there working on their projects and it leaves a nasty aftertaste.
If you happen to catch Baghead late one night whilst suffering from insomnia then by all means give it a look. In the meantime save your money until The Duplass Brothers come up with that clever script that actually is as brilliant as this film should be.
DVD Extras: None
Baghead is released in the UK August 22nd on DVD