Dir. Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass. USA, 2008, 84 mins
In this their second feature, the Duplass brothers have made a wildly funny parody of low-budget horror cinema, and created a bag-headed monster that has a no-budget franchise written all over it.
Baghead should go right to the young audience that made a hit out of The Blair Witch Project, which it mocks shamelessly. Its satire seems likely to draw repeat viewings in theatres and in home video. The iconic bag-headed monster, already a standing joke, is effortless to promote, although sub-titling may keep the film's sly dead-pan script from connecting deeply with audiences beyond English-speaking territories. Parody posters at Sundance hint at an entertaining advertising campaign.
Baghead opens as four extras attend an independent movie in which they acted unpaid. Following a realistic and ridiculous question and answer session with Sundance-clone director Jett Garner (Jett Garner) and an altercation with a party bouncer, they set out for a cabin at Big Bear to write a better indie script.
The screenwriting never happens, but libidos surge as pudgy Chad (Steve Zissis) sees cute Michelle (Greta Gerwig) as his property, but she has eyes for handsome Matt (Ross Partridge), who is pursued by ex-girlfriend Catherine (Elise Muller). (One of the parody posters for the film shows two bag-headed couples sitting upright in bed, looking straight into the camera, an homage to Paul Mazursky's 1969 swinger classic, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.)
Yet ardent lust is trumped by the sudden appearance of a bag-headed monster outside the house. Is Baghead a wanton killer, or is it one of them'
After their car is vandalized and the phone line is cut, the four set off into the woods to return to civilization or to confront the monster.
In this follow-up to their feature debut, The Puffy Chair, the Duplass brothers take their capable no-name actors through a loose script, with the sexual competition's laughs contained just enough to keep you going with the suspense, as you anticipate an attack from a monster that might not exist.
Cameraman Jay Duplass balances close-ups of the four characters with blank reaction shots and cutaways to the empty outdoors to create a rhythm for the minimalist drama. The film has no production designer, because it has no production design.
Yet it does have a crucial prop, the paper bag with eyes and mouth cut out, an indie can-you-do-it cheaper-than-this gauntlet thrown before horror fixtures like the Scream fright mask and Jason's hockey mask on Friday the 13th. It's a tribute to veteran Roger Corman, who was notorious for cheaply costumed monsters in no-budget classics like Wasp Woman and The Beast with a Million Eyes. In Baghead, the Duplass brothers have bested the master.
There is a lot that you don't miss in this film without stars, production design, refined lighting or music. Let's hope that the Duplass brothers will keep mining this vein, although the studios (who would never have made Baghead) will now be chasing after the filmmakers, who can scare and entertain you on the ultra-cheap.
Duplass Brothers Productions
Sony Pictures Classics
John E. Bryant
R. Zane Rutledge