Baghead

Put a bag on your head instead
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2008
Director: 
Jay and Mark Duplass
Starring: 
Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, Ross Partrudge, Elise Mullee
The Setup: 
Four wannabe actors hole up in a cabin to write a script, get menaced by a guy lurking outside.
Discussion: 

Is it really a brilliant deconstruction of horror films? Or is the work of smug, ignorant hipsters aided by a breathless press who want to be Extra Super Nice to the independent film? Four self-absorbed wannabe actors go out to a remote house to write the screenplay that will turn them all into stars. The are menaced by a man with a bag on his head. Who is he? The answer may be far, far less interesting than you think.

I wanted to see this when it was out, as it was getting notices as a major entry in the new "mumblecore" thing, and because it was being touted as a smart deconstruction of horror films. Turns out those writers were just trying to be really forgiving to the efforts of indie filmmakers, because there's nothing here worth seeing.

We open at a film festival screening of a film in which a man finally convinces his love to come to him by publicly disrobing. Then the director, Jett Garner, is brought out, and soon reveals himself to be a pompous ass, saying things such as "you don't need a hundred million dollars to make great art, as I think you've just seen." The whole thing is a parody of the pretentiousness of the indie film circuit and the "pathetic" (in the words of the writer/directors on the included interview) hangers-on of this scene and... once we get to the end of this film, you might wonder if those guys are so different from the people they are satirizing, and if they really should be heaving such scorn at people not too unlike themselves. Those who live in glass houses, etc.

Anyway, they all decide that they'll go to the remote house of one of their friends and collaboratively write a screenplay for the four of them, which they will make, starring themselves, and will be their big break. These people are Matt, sort of aged Bradley Cooper type and slickster, who is going out with Catherine, somewhat glamorous blonde. Then there's Chad, pudgy and balding, who is with Michelle, played by Greta Gerwig. Michelle tells Catherine that she's just friends with Chad, to which Catherine replies "Does he know that?" because indeed Chad is very into Michelle, but she's just into attention. Soon after they arrive at the house, there's a painful scene in which Chad tries to tell Michelle of his feelings, and she plays naive to what he's really saying in order to brush him off.

That night, Michelle wakes, and has a dream that she saw a guy with a bag over his head in the woods. The next morning Matt says that this can be their movie. Sad Chad asks if Michelle can be his movie girlfriend. That night they're all drinking again and Michelle writes a note telling Matt to come to her room. A man with a bag over his head comes, as Michelle is topless, and leaves without saying a word. She then finds that Matt was asleep in her room, which means the Baghead guy was a stranger. She's freaked. Catherine tells her "Matt means the world to me, so..." meaning, stay away. The next morning, Catherine is gone. Then Chad goes to look for her, they hear a scream, and find his ripped-up shirt hanging in the trees.

SPOILERS > > >
So Matt and Michelle are left alone. They drink, and she makes a play for him, but he declines, saying he promised Chad he wouldn't. I wonder if there is supposed to be some reference to L'Avventura in that they aren't concerned about their missing friends. If so, it wasn't apparent from the film. Matt goes up to jerk off, and Chad and Catherine jump out in the middle of it. Matt is pissed. That day, Michelle has a conciliatory scene in which she makes friendly with Chad, while also getting across that she's not interested. He says that she will one day come to love him, while you at home are like "Can you try to go ten minutes without being a creepy, puppy-eyed stalker?" That night, the Baghead guy walks by outside!

They go out, and find him standing by the car, which has been disabled. When Matt approaches with a baseball bat, Baghead brandishes a knife, and they all run screaming. The next day, they try to walk out of the woods, get lost, and before you know it, it's dark. They encounter Baghead, who stabs Matt multiple times, and they all run while suddenly the film becomes a series of blurs in which you can't tell what's going on. They come to a road, the women flag down a car and--

Do you want to know the ending? If not, skip til after the spoilers end. Chad suddenly comes out of the woods and gets hit by the car. Baghead reveals himself to be--Jett Garner! The next day, in the hospital, the truth is revealed: Matt called Garner and had him come be the Baghead, and they would film the footage of them running (who, by the way, is filming? Matt? He's standing on one place as they're running and this is going to be their amazing footage?), and they would build their film around this footage. This, perhaps 60 seconds of footage. Chad demands to see the footage and pronounces it "amazing." Michelle curls up on the bed gazing longingly at Chad, and we are meant to believe that she has, as predicted, come to adore him. Although the rest of the movie has portrayed her as such a shifty narcissist Chad would do best to stay as far away as possible.
< < < SPOILERS END

So the end result is considerably less than its parts, and if we weren't all trying to be really, REALLY nice to the independent film, I doubt anyone would give this shit much attention at all. At the end you're left with a arted-up romantic comedy. And the attempt to be meta, playing on the fallacy that real terror is inherently of more value than acted movie terror, is facile to say the least. If you have seen Blow Out or Body Double, you have placed out of having to watch this film. All it has to offer otherwise is a bunch of navel-gazing about wannabe actors and how very, very fascinating they are, and squishy rom-com sentiment, all through the distance of hipster "we're in it but not of it" irony. Guys, your point about real versus acted drama was 10% of Blow Out, (which, btw, was done 30 years ago) which means that film had 90% other quality stuff, too. Your film tries to fluff up that 10% into something in itself, so I wouldn't be quite so smug.

There is good stuff here, primarily in the characterization of Michelle, which I am prepared to believe is entirely to the credit of Greta Gerwig. She plays the narcissistic free spirit who, on the surface, is a bit chunkier and less outwardly "glamorous" than Catherine, but still fascinates all the guys because of her je ne sais quoi. She is superficially likable and magnetic but a scratch reveals her as amoral and selfish, and the characterization of her is the best thing about the film.

If you think these writer/directors are just overconfident ponces, but don't fully HATE them as people yet, you need only watch the special feature in which they interview themselves, asking themselves the questions they are ALWAYS asked in press interviews, showing that they are so OVER the whole process, so ABOVE all the idiot journalists who ask the questions they repeat with mocking irony here. Adding to the smarm is the fact that they're both losing their infants on their laps, which they then spend a large portion of the proceedings trying to corral. Isn't that just ADORBS? Oh my God guys, your cells have divided--WOW! They answer a few questions with a tone of superior hipster irony--the key takeaway is that they are SO ABOVE everything--but I could only stick through a few questions before losing interest. These guys need to take a step out of their tiny insular little indie film world, and stop being poster children for excesses of self-esteem. It might work, fellas, if your film weren't so intensely mediocre.

Should you watch it: 

I wouldn't bother. Watch Blow Out.