Baghead (2008) dir. The Duplass Brothers
The old standard horror movie set-up of a group of horny youngsters holed up in a cabin for a weekend of sex and blood gets a peculiarly subversive treatment by the masters of mumblecore, The Duplass Brothers. On paper, and even in the trailer, it would seem like an oil and water concoction, but somehow the filmmakers manage to create a horror film with a heart, at times a traditional genre picture with all the chills we expect, but also a naturalistic intimate character study of a friendship put to the test by extreme events.
The film opens at the premiere of a pretentious indie art film at an underground film festival. Matt (Ross Partridge), a struggling actor, is jealous of the adulation the director receives from the film and announces to his friends the idea of secluding themselves in a cabin for a weekend to write their own brilliant feature which will help jumpstart their fledging acting careers.
So Mark along with his best pals, Chad (Steve Zissis), Catherine (Elise Muller) and Michelle (Greta Gerwig) make the road trip into the country to their 'cabin in the woods'. It’s all fun and games until a mysterious man with a bag on his head innocuously appears to several of the friends. While they concede it’s an obvious joke to inspire some creative thought for their script, no one takes blame. The group becomes subject to the old genre clichés, telephone wires are cut, car battery stolen, thus imprisoning them in the woods, with nowhere to turn except to confront the slasher - a confrontation which will lead to more dramatic revelations among themselves.
On film, it’s not hard to make a man with a bag over his head scary (coincidentally, there's an uncanny resemblance to Bryan Bertino’s bagheads in “the Strangers” also released last year). The Duplass Brothers do everything right to scare us, the bagman looking on ominously from the trees, or a quick walkpast a window creates some genuinely chilling moments. But in between these cabin-movie genre-tactics is an endearing story of these friends. Chad, the pudgy n’er do well, pines after the flirtatious but unattainable Michelle. According to Chad his best friend Mark ‘has got game’, which makes Michelle easy-pickings to sleep with him. So Mark's dedication to Chad becomes tested when Michelle's libido heats up.
The Duplass Brothers shoot the film in what seems like classic grainy 16mm, bringing us back to the tone of other cabin horror classics, “The Evil Dead”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Unfortunately the Brothers go overboard with their indie-cred shooting style. Every shot seems to be a close-up, constantly whipping and panning and randomly zooming in and out, often distracting us from what’s happening on screen. The overtooled style is visible in the opening scenes, but as we become involved with the characters and their conflict the style virtually disappears.
The four actors are about an non-descript and unmoviestar-like as they come. Surprisingly Mark Duplass, who played such a fine affable lead in “The Puffy Chair” stays behind the camera here. But perhaps the character of 'Mark' is Duplass's alterego, a character of similar headstrong qualities.
“Baghead” received a distribution deal from Sony Picture Classics, though only a minimal theatrical release. A film like this made to thrive on DVD though and hopefully the film finds it’s audience. The Duplass Brothers are unique filmmakers and deserve some hype. Enjoy.