Baghead was an early entry in the subgenre of mumblecore known as “mumblegore,” which as you may guess is essentially mumblecore films with a horror twist. Probably the director most associated with “mumblegore” is Ti West, who made the excellent The House of the Devil. Baghead was Jay and Mark Duplass’ follow-up to their debut feature The Puffy Chair, which was one of the earliest mumblecore films of the early to mid ’00s.
The story is a pretty simple: four actors attend some L.A. micro-budget festival here a friend is debuting his new film, who kept its budget low by not telling his actors they were in a movie. The four friends end up deciding to make their own low-budget horror movie at Chad’s (Steve Zissis) cabin in the woods. The three other friends are played by Ross Partridge (Matt), Elise Muller (Catherine) and Greta Gerwig (Michelle).
It’s a clever little satire on the micro-budget indie film world. The whole notion that they are struggling actors who can only get work as extras and resort to these extreme methods to achieve it is believable. The film probably would’ve been better if it ended with them premiering their film to a raucous response at the festival they went to at the start, which would’ve given a nice symmetry to the narrative.
The highlight of the film is certainly Greta Gerwig’s performance, which marked the beginning of her status as the “It girl” of mumblecore, and she is adorably dorky in the part. Gerwig would fine-tune her persona for the next few years, culminating in Frances Ha. While arguably not a mumblecore film (that film’s director Noah Baumbach’s earlier work influenced the movement), it undeniably encapsulates the persona she had created up to that point. Zissis also does a nice turn as the loser guy who is utterly infatuated with Gerwig’s Michelle, and a lot of the film’s humour is between them.
When Baghead does became a horror film, it’s OK, but the idea of this nameless killer with a bag over his head in the woods is more terrifying than the film’s actual scenes. You could make a case that the horror elements are a gimmick, but an entertaining one. The film is more effective when it’s just this dramedy about a group of aimless actors and a look at the world of micro-budget filmmaking. Still, it’s an impressive little film that should plant some seeds in the minds of burgeoning filmmakers about what they can do with very little.
The Blu-Ray looks as good as this tiny-budget film shot on a Panasonic AG-HVX200 in 2008 ever could. The extras include a commentary with the Duplass brothers, and also a video where they interview each other. The final extra is two minutes of somebody scaring people with the bag over their head.