Tuesday, August 19, 2008


The genre pastiche can reap rewards both great and bizarre, and we rarely see a combo as conceptually out there as Baghead, which slaps together the so-called "mumblecore" genre with B-movie cabin horror to flawed but somewhat enjoyable results.

For the uninformed who need a crash course on what "mumblecore" is, it defines a relatively new film genre pioneered by writer / directors like Andrew Bujalski, Joe Swanberg, and the Duplass Brothers (who wrote and directed Baghead), typically characterized by extremely low-key cinematography, naturalistic acting, a focus on human minutiae over action, and typically slice-of-life stories that usually center on the relationships of disaffected young adults. Some people think "mumblecore" movies barely qualify as films, others really like them; I am among the latter.

The first act of Baghead holds true to many of these tropes as we follow four struggling actors who relocate to a secluded cabin in the woods to spend the weekend writing a screenplay. Relationship woes and general amusing social awkwardness ensue. But before long a knife-wielding man with a brown paper bag over his head removes their car's engine and begins tormenting them - the Baghead. A unique combination of humanistic comedy and extremely B-movie horror ensues.

As for what works, as I said before, I enjoy the "mumblecore" aesthetic; I think the naturalism and inherent awkwardness of its fly-on-the-wall, vérité style feeds into an easy comedic rhythm that generates, if not big belly laughs, a lot of small laughs by reminding one of personal experiences. Particularly when the acting is good, as it generally is here (albeit not exceptional). And I find the union of that low-concept style with the trappings of a genre film an appealingly experimental idea.

However, horror is my least favorite genre, so for me that element imposed on more than enhanced the film. Not always, as it is what gives the movie its narrative thrust and drives the characters into the panic that generates the comedy, but when the film starts to feel a little Blair Witch-ish near the end, it lost me. And furthermore, the film's Hollywood parody is a little limp and doesn't say anything other films about films haven't.

On the whole though I somewhat enjoyed it and would probably recommend it to indie film fans, although I would suggest watching other "mumblecore" movies like Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation, and The Puffy Chair first to see if this style is for you or not. Not everyone enjoys it, but I find it endearing. Now someone just needs to make a mumblecore action movie; now that would be an experiment.

2 Stars out of 5

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