The laughs outweigh the scares in “Baghead,” a clever horror/comedy hybrid and the latest good time movie from filmmaker brothers Jay and Mark Duplass. The fact that there are shocks throughout the film confirms “Baghead’s” best attribute. The Duplass Brothers, much admired for their 2005 Sundance film “The Puffy Chair” and standout figures in the cultish “Mumblecore” film movement, are growing as filmmakers. They’re trying new things in “Baghead” and building upon their strengths as craftsmen of approachable characters, zippy dialogue and warm romance. As a result, “Baghead” premiering in the Spectrum program at the Sundance Film Festival, is the Duplass Brothers’ best film yet.
Watching a friend’s film gain acclaim at the Los Angeles Underground Film Festival inspire friends Chad (Steve Zissis), Catherine (Elise Muller) )and Matt (Ross Partridge) and Michelle (Greta Gerwig) to try and jumpstart their own careers. They head to a cabin in Big Bear California to write a script and create stellar roles for themselves. While there, a stranger with a rumpled brown paper bag over his head begins menacing them. At first it seems like a joke, but then, as his appearances multiple, the man with the bag over his head becomes somewhat frightening.
Greta Gerwig is charismatic and pretty as Michelle, a free spirit who attracts men with little ease. Elise Muller brings spunk as Catherine, an actress with a notch more experience than the rest of the gang. Ross Partridge stands out at the lumpy bud desperate to make Michelle love him. His puppy dog glances at Michelle are priceless. Steve Zissis is all charm and wit as Chad, the instigator to the let’s write a script plan. There’s not a false moment between these four friends thanks to their easygoing performances and the film’s quality storytelling. “Baghead” contains all the good humor and everyday characters of earlier Duplass Brothers films blended with genre horror elements. The impact is more silly than frightening but the laughter-screaming combination turns out to be great fun.
What’s familiar in “Baghead” is the Duplass Brothers’ improvisational style of storytelling, shoestring production and trademark and close-up-fixated cinematography. That’s a welcome relief. What’s different is a youthful tale of friendship and romantic longing boosted by the appearance of a menacing figure with a bag over his head. Seldom has genre been this warm and fuzzy. “Baghead” is funny, a little scary but always honest.
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.