There’s a fine line between being scared out of your mind and laughing your head off. At first thought it would seem that these two expressions of emotions would be at opposite ends of the spectrum but in fact they are very nearly separated. If you’ve seen a good horror movie in the theater you know this because the audience gasps in horror and then laughs afterward as a way of releasing tension. The Duplas brothers’ want to exploit this phenomenon with their new mumblecore film, Baghead.
The majority of scripts coming out of the beginning screenwriting classes at both USC and UCLA are about one of two things: either they are about making films or about people with OCD. Baghead treads on the former making it a better festival movie than anything else.
After seeing an awful independent film, four adults set out to a cabin in the woods to write and shoot a feature film in one weekend. Strange things begin to happen and they try to incorporate these events into their script.
The movie starts out strong with some good comedic propulsion in the first act. The characters are given motivations and a context to exercise them in. Between the first and second act the film begins to take on a Charlie Kaufmen like quality…maybe something thrown away from Adaptation. But then it wallows in this strange place where the character seem less interested in what they had set out to do then in playing jokes on each other. I became less interested too. The third act picks up again as it begins to resolve some of the questions hanging in the air. However it never really pays off in any way and maybe reaching for realism over structure is a mumblecore staple. If this is the case then why borrow the conventions of a thriller's structure to start the film and leave them out to finish it.
I’m no expert on mumblecore but it seems that the movement freely borrows from conventional Hollywood only to make the statement that they don’t need the conventions of a Hollywood film and certainly not the budget. Their hearts in the right place and I do think the Duplas brothers are excellent at getting genuine performances and taking those performances from something we recognize to something downright uncomfortable. It’s this authentic quality that makes them interesting (see Puffy Chair). They never seem to know how to get back from the uncomfortable and maybe they don’t want to. They enjoy leaving a slightly bitter taste in your mouth. I think they want the audience to feel smart and not betrayed by manipulative conventions. Baghead is effective at being comedic and scary at times but otherwise pretty forgettable.