FEBRUARY 17, 2011
It took some convincing for me to see Baghead, which folks have been recommending for over two years now. For starters, I took a look at the rating, and it didn't say anything about violence or "scary images" or any of the other things one would expect to see in the reasons for a particular rating on a horror film (just nudity and language). But even more than that, I was concerned that it would be the type of indie with a lot of improv and annoying camerawork that I tend to dislike.
And, well, it was. I didn't hate the film, but if there was ever a perfect example of "not my thing", this would be it. I mean, really, the only thing holding my interest was finding out if Baghead was a legit killer or if it was all a prank (guess which it was? Note the question mark after the "Slasher" tag for a hint), but luckily the film was so short I didn't have to wait long to find out.
The biggest problem is, oddly, the horror angle. When it's just the four characters sitting around, talking over each other while the cameraman zooms and pans around like mad, hoping to catch it all and retain some semblance of focus, I was merely disinterested. If the whole movie was like that, it would just be a harmless indie rom-com that I'd probably never watch but wouldn't hate if I did. But whenever they do a legit horror scene, they more or less drop the comedy and relationship drama that fuels the rest of the film. If you took the 3-4 "scare" scenes out of the film and strung them together, you'd be convinced it was a collection of scenes from any slasher movie - there's a creepy "killer watching through the window" bit, a tense search for a friend, even a chase or two. Had they found a way to retain the humor in these scenes (even the "bag over the head" idea isn't particularly funny; the footage is often so dark it can easily be mistaken for The Town That Dreaded Sundown's killer, or Jason from F13 Part 2), it might have been more successful.
See, I know damn well that the scare scenes aren't going to amount to much, so they don't quite work as horror scenes, any more than Frank Drebin or Topper Harley making their way through a parody of an action scene from Terminator or Rambo works as a legitimate action scene. And they're so generic (intentionally so, I assume), these scenes hardly even resonate. It's far more entertaining when the characters are playing tricks on each other; there's a bit where two of them dress as Baghead and move in to scare a guy who they think is sleeping, but it turns out he was masturbating. That scene's hilarious, and fit the "slasher spoof" concept to a T. But the legit, humorless slasher scenes just stick out like sore thumbs; it's actually the rare time where the "it was all fake" solution was preferable - if this was supposed to be legitimate, Baghead would be the lamest slasher of all time.
Luckily, I found some of the humor quite on target. I loved the opening scene at the film festival, where a guy shows some pretentious garbage and gets lauded for it (and they capture the festival Q&A process perfectly - the first question is ALWAYS "What was the budget?"), and I chuckled at the guy using his wallet to simulate a cell phone when trying to sneak into an after party. And even though I couldn't stand Greta Gerwig's character for the most part (on the commentary, they reveal at least one reviewer thought her character might be suffering a mental handicap of some sort, and believe me, it's not a stretch), she gets one of the better lines in the film, when her disbelieving friends ask why she was so upset and she replies that "a" Baghead didn't attack them (like the Bagheads are a race of some sort).
But again, the camerawork just is not my thing. Folks mock Michael Bay and the like for cutting every second, but I find that far more enjoyable than constantly zooming and whipping the camera around. And the more characters that are in a scene, the worse it gets; the early scene where they start tossing around ideas for "Baghead" (the four characters in the woods to write a script about Baghead - though the meta-ness is kept to a minimum) was nearly unbearable for me to watch. I kept wanting to smack the cameraman, or at least make sure he hadn't forgotten his seizure medication. Sorry, I just can't get into a movie when I'm constantly being distracted by what the camera is doing. It's one thing if it's a documentary (or a found footage thing), but if it's a narrative it just drives me up a wall and prevents me from concentrating.
However, while I may not care much for their shooting style, I did find myself quite charmed by the Duplass brothers, both on their commentary and the only bonus feature of note, in which the brothers sit on their couch (with a static shot, go figure) and answer the most common questions they get about the film (including, yes, what the budget was). It's a good mix of both self-deprecating humor and (justified) self-congratulatory remarks, and the fact that they are both cradling their children (one a newborn, the other seems about 12-18 months) makes it all the more charming. Their commentary follows a similar pattern, and while it may frustrate some to listen to since a good chunk of it is about alternate or deleted material that doesn't appear on the disc, just hearing about "what could have been" was enough for me. I was also surprised to hear that they tested the film several times - I always figured these sort of things were just released as is.
The only other extra is an odd collection of videos of Bagheads popping out and scaring friends. I assume they are staged and were shot for a contest on the website or something, but the fact that they are presented without any context makes them kind of useless to me. And since it's a Sony DVD, it starts with a commercial for Blu-ray, boasting about how much clearer it is than DVD despite being on a standard def disc that can't back those claims up in any way. It's like putting a picture of a perfect steak and telling you how much better it is than a Big Mac on the door of a McDonald's.
If you really dig these "mumblecore" movies, you'll probably enjoy Baghead, as the horror angle is present enough for it to stick out from all the others, but not enough to offend or frighten. But as a horror film (or even a horror comedy), the elements are too lacking to really satisfy. Stick with Severance if you want a funny "alt" take on the woods-based slasher, or Shaun of the Dead if you want a good rom-com with a side of blood.
What say you?