An unidentified Baghead gives peace a chance.
BAGHEAD written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, with Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, Ross Partridge and Elise Muller. A Mongrel Media release. 84 minutes. Opens Friday (August 8) at the Royal Cinema. See Indie & Rep Film. Rating: NNNN
Genres mash up with unexpected results
I'm not sure what kind of movie Baghead is, but it totally had me.
At first it looks like the latest entry in the indie sub-genre that's come to be known as "mumblecore," defined by limited means, naturalistic performances and a hand-?held DV aesthetic. Or, at the very least, a satire about the kind of self-?proclaimed artist who'd be drawn to jump aboard that extremely shaky bandwagon.
But no sooner has the movie established its quartet of characters - two guys and two girls, all L.A. film scene wannabes who've retreated to a cabin in Big Bear to bang out a script for the no-?budget movie that'll be their ticket onto the festival circuit - than it switches gears and goes somewhere creepier and far more intense than mumblecore pictures have previously ventured.
Stuck for ideas, Michelle (Greta Gerwig, of Hannah Takes The Stairs and Nights And Weekends) finds a killer image in a drunken nightmare - a vision of a silent man with a paper bag over his head, watching her. Alpha male Matt (Ross Partridge) thinks it's a great hook; self-?conscious beta male Chad (Steve Zissis) is cool with it, as long as Michelle - for whom he's carrying a pretty obvious torch - gets to be his girlfriend in the movie. Catherine (Elise Miller), who can see sparks flying between Matt and Michelle, keeps her own counsel.
And then stuff starts happening in the woods outside the cabin. There are strange noises. Torn shirts. And people start seeing Bagheads everywhere. Was Michelle really just dreaming when she had her vision? And, hey - where did the car battery go?
Having made one of the key entries in the mumblecore movement with 2005's The Puffy Chair, writer-?director-?producer brothers Jay and Mark Duplass work an unexpected variation on the form here.
They've taken an odd jumble of genres - a little romantic comedy, a little mopey indie drama, a little Blair Witch Project, a dash of Friday The 13th Part 2 - and come up with something that feels utterly derivative of all of them and radically original because of that. Imagine the birthday-?party video in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs stretched into about 20 minutes of unnerving tension and you'll have a sense of the way the last reel plays out. Except that you won't.
I can't tell whether the Duplass brothers set out to bury mumblecore outright or to demonstrate that low-?budget movies shot with hand-?held cameras and unknown actors were around long before anyone had heard of Joe Swanberg or Andrew Bujalski. (Or, for that matter, Jay and Mark Duplass.) But they've come up with something new and compelling.
Whatever else it is, Baghead is freakishly watchable. And Gerwig, by the way, is just the cutest hipster pixie going.