(2008)3.5Derek ArmstrongBoth the filmmakers behind Baghead and the characters who play amateur filmmakers in the film, seem to take their inspiration from The Blair Witch Project. That's the meta-reality of the so-called mumblecore movement, which encompasses films like Humpday and The Puffy Chair (also the brainchild of Baghead directors Mark and Jay Duplass), and features nonprofessional actors improvising their dialogue in an attempt to produce the most naturalistic cinema possible. The believability of the Blair Witch Project footage is what made it so indelible, and though there's no attempt to disguise Baghead's status as fiction, the handheld camera and total lack of artifice create the necessary conditions for another smart vérité horror. Whether Baghead is actually a horror movie or not is one of its secrets. The film deftly walks the line between chilling moments and dialogue-heavy relationship stuff, which is the more standard bread and butter of mumblecore. As the four main characters travel to a cabin in the woods to make what amounts to their own mumblecore film, a highly involving dynamic crops up between them. Both women are sexually attracted to one guy, neither to the other, and any number of minute awkward moments and betrayals could inspire several characters to terrorize each other, to become the physical incarnation of the baghead character they've brainstormed. Professional actors or not, Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, and Elise Muller really sell this material, providing further evidence of the mumblecore philosophy: that actors you don't recognize can slip into their roles more totally than famous actors, and be just as convincing, if not more so. Well-intentioned but flawed, these characters really personalize what's at stake for them during this weekend -- professionally, romantically, and psychologically. The result is a nuanced study in human behavior, with a high-concept hook.
The Puffy Chair filmmaking duo Jay and Mark Duplass return to the realm of cinema with this tale of a man, a bag, and the strangeness that occurs when the two independently inconsequential factors come together.