“Baghead.” Yup, that’s what the Duplass Brothers, the brotherly team behind 2005’s breakout hit “The Puffy Chair,” have decided to call their newest cinematic endeavor. What’s it about, you ask? It’s about four friends who go into the woods to create an indie film and end up being seriously freaked out by a stoic stranger who runs around with, you guessed it, a bag on his head. The history of people with bags on their heads (The Unknown Comic, that guy or girl you brought home after a long night of partying) is rarely met with any semblance of seriousness, but here the brothers Duplass have managed to make a multi-layered film that put a knot in my stomach from start to finish. That’s not to say it’s particularly scary (I prefer unsettlingly creepy), but once again Mark and Jay Duplass show uncanny insight and understanding into the little tiny nuances that make people and situations prickle and tick.
Matt, Chad, Michelle and Catherine (Partridge, Zissis, Gerwig, Muller) are four friends who are living the tough, actorly life in L.A. After viewing a friends annoying, condescending and boring art film at a local film festival, they decide to grab some beer, clothes and food and head up to a cabin in Big Bear where they’ll hunker down and write a film of their own. The plan is also construed so that frumpy, self-esteem challenged writer Chad might hook up with cute ingénue Michelle in the open, woodsy air. Yet once at the cabin, the foursome’s creative juices come to a screeching halt as everyone is at a loss as to what their film will be about. Of course it’s tough to write and shoot a film under any circumstance, but the unspoken distractions between the four characters surely aren’t helping much either.
At this point in both the movie and this review, you’re probably thinking this will be another film about filmmaking done by some witty indie filmmakers. Well, it’s not. At least not totally and that’s what the Duplass’s are so good at doing in their films. They set up tense relationships, rife with pratfalls and awkwardness all snuggled nicely into a simplistic plot and then sort of, set them in motion with realistic scenes that smack so true you almost forget you’re watching a movie. The plot is rarely if ever what’s really going on. In the case of “Baghead,” each person involved wants something different from the other, but no one will come right out and say what it is that they want. Thus the tension in the air is palpable and the plot thickens when the aforementioned baghead starts making his presence known.
It’s films like this that make me love independent film yet hate having to “rate” a film like this as star ratings are designed to fit with films that fit into easy categories. “Baghead” is a really, really good film but I’ll admit, I need to see it again (and maybe once more after that) to make sure I really got what was going on. And that’s a good thing. The acting is stellar with the characters seemingly living the roles and the film is also a sort of allegory for filmmaking, especially the Hitchcockian or method type. No, I’m not comparing “Baghead” or the Duplass Brothers to Hitchcock, but like the master of suspense was known for doing, this film touches on what people must go through to make a film. Being creative is scary and personal and when you involve other people in the creative process you have to trust them or find a way to get what you want. And that happens here as do laughs, gasps, confusion and terror both real and internalized.