Baghead, reviewed.

Reviews of the latest films.
July 25 2008 4:40 PM

Baghead

An indie horror film that kind of resembles early John Sayles.

Baghead. Click image to expand
Baghead

Baghead (Sony Pictures Classics) opens on a scene of four friends at an L.A. film festival who are raptly watching a mediocre-looking indie called We Are Naked. Inspired by what they regard as a masterpiece, the foursome takes off for an isolated cabin, where they plan to spend the weekend writing and shooting their own horror movie to jump-start their acting careers. They brainstorm an appropriately low-budget villain: a guy lurking in the woods with a paper bag over his head. But just as the friends get going on their script, the "baghead" begins making real, if unverifiable, appearances. Is there a knife-wielding psycho on the loose? Or is someone (maybe one of the friends themselves) just messing with their, and our, heads?

If you've seen The Blair Witch Project,or Diary of the Dead, or any of the standard-issue slasher movies that those projects spoofed, you probably think you know what's coming next. There'll be self-aware show-business satire punctuated by bouts of screaming gore, all culminating in a harrowing chase through the forest and the survival of the prettiest. But directors Mark and Jay Duplass, brothers whose first film was the 2004 cult hit The Puffy Chair, are cannier than that. They've made a movie about trickery that neatly tricks its viewers into laughing, then screaming, then laughing again.

Advertisement

The quartet consists of the handsome alpha male Matt (Ross Partridge); his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Catherine (Elise Muller); his insecure buddy Chad (Steve Zissis); and Michelle, an unattached cutie who's the object of Chad's longing. The first act makes clear that these four are more than just passive Baghead-bait. They're complicated, needy, at times scheming people who communicate almost entirely through indirection. When Chad makes a pass at Michelle, she deflects him by playfully putting her hairclips in his hair; later, Matt forces Chad to repeat self-esteem-enhancing affirmations ("I am cute. I am funny.") even as he plans to steal Chad's girl.

Baghead's use of improvised dialogue and deliberately rough editing have led to its classification as a "mumblecore" film (an imprecise and condescending designation that must be getting on the last nerve of the genre's supposed originators, Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg). But the movie's concern with its characters' shifting alliances and petty vanities also evokes early John Sayles and, at times, Eric Rohmer. The last scene, in which those alliances get sorted out in unforeseen ways, pulls a nifty final trick on the audience. What we'd been watching all along as a campy horror spoof turns out to be a soulful little comedy about friendship, betrayal, and the fear of revealing who you really are—whether or not there's a grocery sack on your head.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Mad About Modi


Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.


Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.