The two favorite subjects of ultra low budget filmmakers seems to be the relationship drama and the slasher film, both due to the low cost involved in producing either. All the relationship piece needs is a few actors and a location, while a slasher’s biggest budget line is often the corn syrup and food coloring needed for the fake blood. With Baghead, writer-director siblings Mark and Jay Duplass have taken the two genres and crafted a hysterical critique of low budget output that twists and turns back on itself in surprising ways.
The film opens self-consciously at an underground film festival, with four friends trying to stifle laughter at an acquaintance’s preposterous and pretentious black and white, relationship drama. Later, while drunkenly bemoaning their own unemployed actor status, they hatch a plan to write their own independent film in which to star in. Heading to an isolated cabin owned by one the quartet’s uncle, the group makes little headway in their collaborative screenwriting effort.
Much of the success of the film comes from the work of the four actors and the strength of their relationships as written by the Duplass brothers. Matt is the nominal alpha male of the group, the one who came up with the filmmaking idea that has brought the quartet to the woods. Matt is in an on-again/off-again relationship with Catherine, who is interested in making their relationship on-again. Matt’s best friend is Chad, who hopes to start something with the group’s fourth, Michelle, though she only has eyes for Matt.
Everything that the characters go through stems naturally from the setup in the beginning. That’s not to say that things unfold predictably, but when things do happen, it never feels like soap opera. As the characters’ relationships begin to fracture an added complication arises, a mysterious and threatening man lurking in the woods, his features hidden by a bag over his head.
Much of the look of low budget independent films can be divided into two distinct and diametrically-divided visual styles- very static shots where a director has just pointed the camera at his actor’s and yelled “Action!” or the very shakey, hand-held camera that moves jerkily around and through the action. The Duplass brothers might not have a strong visual, their camera work here tends to fall into the middle of the two extremes, though at times it does gravitate towards the herky-jerky side. Don’t be too concerned if the horror elements don’t play to well. It is all part of the joke and a final reel revelation reveals its lack of necessity.