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Baghead (2008)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/30/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/1/2009

In CB4, Chris Rock's 1993 parody of the world of hip-hop, his up-and-coming rap trio tries many incarnations in order to garner attention. For one of their outings, they perform while wearing shower-caps and refer to themselves as the "Bagheads". I wish that this movie had been about that scene. Instead, I'm not quite sure what Baghead is about, and I don't think that it knows either.

Baghead introduces us to four struggling actors in Los Angeles -- Matt (Ross Partridge) has had a long-time on-again/off-again relationship with Catherine (Elise Muller), while Matt's friend, Chad (Steve Zissis), has only been dating Michelle (Greta Gerwig) for a short time. After attending a film-festival, where they found the movies to be laughable, the quartet discuss their careers and decide that they must take charge of their own destinies. They decide to spend a few days in a cabin in the woods and write a script in which they can star. They arrive at the cabin, spend some time relaxing, and then start to pitch ideas. The group decides to make a love-story, where there will be two couples. While this is happening, unbeknownst to Chad, Michelle begins to make passes at Matt. That night, Michelle has a dream where someone wearing a bag on their head comes into her room. Sharing this with the group the next day, Matt suggests that they turn their movie into a horror film where "Baghead" stalks a group of characters. However, actual work on the story begins to fall apart at this point, as the group begins to argue amongst themselves. To make matters worse, an actual "Baghead" makes an appearance at the cabin.

I'm a huge horror film fan, and I often wonder why more filmmakers don't branch out into the genre (despite the fact that some people see horror films as being low-class). For example, Quentin Tarantino has proven himself to be a master of suspense, and I be that he could do wonders with a scary movie. There are a handful of shots and scenes in Baghead which would be right at home in a genuine horror movie. Filmmaking brothers Jay and Mark Duplass actually show some skill in diverting the audiences attention just long enough to have some startling happen. Unfortunately, outside of these moments, Baghead is a complete mess.

I'm not here to pigeonhole movies, but the first problem with Baghead is that is can't remain in one genre for more than a few seconds. At times, it wants to be a subtle comedy, as the group fires off quirky jokes at one another. The mid-section of the movie turns into a drama ala The Big Chill, as this group struggles with their relationships and fears of infidelity. The final act turns into a siege movie, as the group attempts to decide if someone is in the woods waiting for them.

The DVD box for Baghead proclaims it to be "The Funniest Spoof Horror Film of the Year!". At no point does this proclamation become true. Based on this, and some events in the first act, I thought that the movie would become a thinking man's Friday the 13th. But, the Duplass' laid-back, "let's see where this scene goes" style of filmmaking ensures that the horror spoof nature never comes to the forefront. As stated above, there are a few horror movie moments, but these are fleeting, and the movie only slows down again after these intense scenes.

There are also technical issues with Baghead. I guess that Jay and Mark should be congratulated for making a feature-film for around $1000, but this movie wears its low-budget nature a bit too proudly. There will be more on the DVD transfer momentarily, but the movie was shot on an HD camera. The problem which I had was that they apparently left the auto-focus "ON", so the movie is constantly going in and out of focus and we can see the camera struggling to balance objects in the foreground and background. The Duplass' have also chosen to shoot the film in a verite style, which simply doesn't aid the narrative. As the camera constantly moves back and forth, following each character in turn, the audience grows weary of this and wonder when the camera will actually have someone interesting to show.

The only thing worse than a truly bad movie is one which shows promise, but can't live up to it. There's a decent film somewhere within Baghead. I'm sure that the premise looked good on paper and one could probably whittle this down to an enjoyable movie. But, as it stands, we have an antsy movie which doesn't want to simply sit still and entertain us.

Baghead runs through the woods on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The overall image looks OK, showing a nice sharpness. However, the image is grainy (on HD?). The colors look good and only a few shots are too dark. The picture does show constant shimmering and blurring, the latter due to the camera movements and focus changes. The Disc offers a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio track. This track provide clear dialogue and sound effects, with only a touch of hissing. The audio is stable and everything sounds fine, but the movie could have really benefited from some sort of surround treatment. This movie needs all the help which it can get, and considering that the group is convinced that someone is outside, sounds coming from all around them would have been of great assistance.

The Baghead DVD contains a few extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Mark and Jay Duplass. This is a very laid-back talk, as the brothers give a lot of detailed information about the making of the film. They hold nothing back in talking about the actors, locations, story, and loose nature of the filmmaking process. "Mark and Jay Duplass Answer Questions They've Already Answered" (16 minutes) has the two filmmakers (with their children) interviewing one another and answering the questions that they know people want to hear. They discuss the ideas for the film, their shooting style, and how they work together. "Baghead Scares" (2 minutes) is simply a reel showing random people getting scared by a Baghead. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the movie.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long