Baghead (2008)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #193

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 25 July 2008
Sub Genre: Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $60,000
Box Office: $140,016 (USA)
Running Time: 84 minutes
Directors: Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass
Producer: John E. Bryant, Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass
Screenplay: Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass
Cinematography: Jay Duplass
Score: J. Scott Howard
Editing: Jay Deuby
Studio: Duplass Brothers Productions
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Stars: Steve Zissis, Ross Partridge, Greta Gerwig, Elise Muller, Jett Garner, Jennifer Lafleur, Darrell Bryant

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It can be an arduous task for young indie filmmakers to get their art recognized. More often than not they are required to do most of the legwork themselves, speculating to accumulate. That can mean spending your film’s budget all over again in an attempt at getting it seen by the right people and, even then, there are no guarantees it is going to get picked up for distribution. Ordinarily this is why young auteurs begin with short films, shot on microscopic budgets, in the hope that they will spark some interest. It takes time, perseverance and an extraordinary level of commitment and can be a thankless task.

Mark and Jay Duplass.

The Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark, had already enjoyed a relative level of success with their 2005 festival favorite The Puffy Chair and thus were a little more fore-armed when shooting sophomore full-length feature Baghead. It was made for a mere $60k but cost the brothers over three times that by the time they got the film to the Sundance Film Festival, in itself no easy feat. They pitched it well and Sony Pictures picked it up for distribution, with a limited theatrical release almost regaining the initial lay out in one fell swoop, before any DVD revenues came rolling in. A job well done by the boys and their commitment was admirable.

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Baghead was sold primarily as a comedy which is entirely false as it plays out more like human drama. It follows four struggling actors as they take off to the woods to write a screenplay in an old remote log cabin. Once there it becomes clear that there is sexual chemistry between Matt (Ross Partridge) and the object of his pal’s affection Michelle (Greta Gerwig). This is much to the annoyance of Chad (Steve Zissis) and Matt’s longtime on-again, off-again belle Catherine (Elise Muller) who can see the signs and feel embittered by their blossoming friendship.

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The Duplass Brothers eek every bit of tension from the scenario, choosing not to play their hand too soon and keeping the audience guessing right up to the last act although it probably wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to work out which direction they’re heading. We get to spend quality time with the four principal characters as tensions begin to rise and friendships are tested, and all the while a shadowy figure is keeping tabs on their movements and steadily making himself known to the group.

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The prowler’s name is Baghead and, lo and behold, he is played by a man with a paper bag over his face. He lurks menacingly around the locale, popping up on occasion to scare the group witless and brandishing a hunting knife which appears destined to find each of them in turn. There is a wonderful stand-off where he makes his presence very much felt but he remains largely ambiguous. This is fine as it helps add tension to proceedings but Baghead falters in the fact that not enough is made of its intriguing premise.

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The actors are fine in their roles although the constantly slurring Michelle may grate on a few nerves. The issue is the dialogue, passable as it is, it never gives you much reason to care for the group. It therefore lives and dies by its ability to shock and is a real one-off experience in that respect. Once the reveal has played out it becomes harder to justify the last 70 minutes’ events and The Duplass Brothers miss a trick by not taking Baghead to a place where it deserved to be taken.

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Regardless of shortfalls, and a complete lack of grue to keep things frothing, Baghead is worthy of your time if you enjoy grass-roots film-making at its most honest. There are a handful of moments which will have you feeling slightly uneasy and the jangling wind chimes add a layer of dread throughout. The brothers deserve to be lauded for making their project a reality and taking an entirely fresh slant on a more than familiar theme. What they achieve is a strictly one-watch feature with enough charm and guile to partially win you over.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 0/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: I hate to use the term ‘mumblecore’ but you know what to expect from a feature such as Baghead and grue certainly isn’t it. If however you can pull yourself away from wishing to cave Michelle’s spud in for long enough, then you will be treated with a glimpse of Greta Gerwig’s purty top bottom.

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