MOVIES: Do not be afraid of indie ‘Baghead’

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The new indie flick “Baghead” is an odd hybrid of genres. It’s also a strikingly different feature upon second viewing.

“Baghead” details the travails of four struggling Hollywood types; two men, two women. Frustrated with their lack of success in the moviemaking world, Matt (Ross Partridge) and Chad (Steve Zissis) convince their two female friends Michelle (Greta Gerwig) and Catherine (Elise Muller) to join them in a secluded cabin with the intention of penning a hit screenplay.

The only problem is a lack of ideas: None of the would-be screenwriters has any notion what to write about, or even how to pen a script.

Sitting around a table getting drunk, the foursome throws out generic, boring ideas and play silly games you see at bad scriptwriting seminars — like jotting down an idea on a 3-by-5 note card and passing it to the person on the left in the hopes it can improved upon.

We’re not exactly in William Goldman territory here.

Not helping matters is the quickly developing love quadrangle. Chad is infatuated with Michelle, who is infatuated with Matt, who used to (and kind of still does) have a thing with Catherine, who wants Matt all for herself. But we’ll come back to that in a minute.

The plot really gets moving when, after Michelle has a spooky dream, Matt settles on a topic for the screenplay they are assembling: What if a man with a bag on his head was trying to kill a group of isolated campers in the middle of the woods?

The group is split. Catherine thinks it’s a dumb idea, Chad doesn’t care so long as he and Michelle can play a couple, and the script continues to flounder. Writing woes take a back seat to real life drama, though, when the group is visited by a Baghead of their own. Life appears to be imitating art — unless, of course, that dream was not a dream at all, but a memory made hazy by sleep and alcohol.

Shot in a cinema verite style that utilizes the hand-held shaky cam aesthetic to great effect and employs little in the way of a soundtrack, “Baghead” has several incredibly tense moments. Like another surprisingly effective movie from earlier in the year, “The Strangers,” “Baghead” draws scenes out longer than the audience might expect in order to induce anxiety.

Those looking for a pure horror film, however, will be disappointed. On second viewing, it becomes clear that the directors/writers Mark and Jay Duplass were less interested in the horrific aspects of their story than the emotional attachments developed by their characters.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing terribly interesting about those relationships. The shlubby Chad’s pining for Michelle grows both tiresome and embarrassing in short order, while Catherine’s scheming to keep Matt and Michelle apart is mean-spirited and unappealing.

There are some humorous and touching moments in the movie, but the actors lack the finesse needed to make us feel for their characters. The audience should be excused if it wishes the movie would just stick to the horror.

★★½

TITLE: “Baghead”

RATING: R for language, some sexual content and nudity

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