Friday, February 5, 2010


Baghead in the kind of movie I would have liked to have made.

It's probably no secret by now that I'm a slasher movie aficionado. Lord knows I review enough of them on this website. I view them as a perverse lowbrow sort of haiku: the art and skill of the filmmakers shine through the rigid structure of the narrative. To put it in a less pretentious way, there ain't a hell of a lot you can do with a slasher film. Guy in a mask stalks some people, kills a bunch of them, and then finally dies (or not.) It's a chase narrative, and chase narratives are by definition limited. Sure, I can wax philosophic about what Jason's motives might be and how they relate to my anti-social upbringing, but all I'm doing is reflecting my own psychodrama off what is essentially a blank image. Practically speaking, there's very little to differentiate Jason Voorhees from Harry Warden from Chrome Skull from Michael Myers. So I'd watch these movies and applaud them for their clever little touches or their...ahem...skillful execution. Then Baghead came along and showed me that the rigid framework of a slasher narrative can be used to tell an interesting story about artists and dreamers and relationships.

The framework is pretty routine: four people depart for a cabin in the woods, some sexual shenanigans ensue, and they find themselves being stalked by a knife-wielding man with a bag on his head. The poor besieged group are a quartet of struggling actors, slightly older than the average slasher bait, people who've clearly wandered the path of their chosen careers for awhile and haven't had much success. Inspired by an acquaintance's success in the indie film scene, they retire to a cabin to create a story that will bring them fame and recognition. One of the ideas they kick around is the story of Baghead, a man with a brown paper bag over his face stalking a house full of people. Eventually the character realize that someone is actually stalking them and the movie becomes a tense game of stalk and slash that turns into a twist ending.

I was surprised how close the movie actually cleaved to the formula. The cliched slutty/dumpy/vengeful/smarmy characters are all represented, there are boobs, there are late night stalker sequences in the woods, Baghead takes out the character's car, etc. Given the low budget of the movie this could have easily turned into something amateur-looking were the characters and performances not so skillfully crafted. Relationships between slasher bait tend to fall into typical teenage drama, but the characters in Baghead relate to each other very naturally. The writing is smooth and the performances feel really authentic.

Underneath the horror film tropes, Baghead is about a socially awkward guy who likes a girl. It's a movie about a bunch of creative people who want to do something with themselves. Underneath my horror movie sturm und drang, I'm a softie. I thought Baghead was sweet.

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