(No longer in theaters)
John E. Bryant
Sony Pictures Classics
Jun 13, 2008
Maybe the most inapt name I’ve heard for an aesthetic movement is “mumblecore,” the tag applied to films by twentysomething white directors like Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation). I’m not sure who came up with the label, but the style in which these youngish characters struggle to frame their chaotic feelings has nothing to do with volume or intelligibility and everything to do with attack—or the wishy-washy lack of it. They speak up; they’re just not sure before they open their mouths what will pop out. If anything, the name should be fumblecore. Running with my new label (which popped out), I dub Baghead the first fumblecore horror movie, or what passes in the indefinite fumblecore universe for a horror movie. Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, it’s very broad, but the satire—and its attendant babble—actually heightens the scares. The monstrous maniac with the bagged head is like an extension of the characters’ own self-indulgence.
The movie centers on four unsuccessful actors—the dweeby guy (Steve Zissis) in love with the cute girl (Greta Gerwig) who strings him along to boost her ego and keeps everything—yes—indefinite; and his more rugged pal (Ross Partridge), who has an on-again-off-again (indefinite) relationship with a longtime girlfriend (Elise Muller). After watching a bad low-budget movie, the four decide to drive out to a remote cabin to write a relationship movie for themselves—something to get them noticed and maybe (this is only implicit) help define their own mixed-up connections. After lots of alcohol, the cute girl either sees or dreams a man in the dark woods with a bag over his head. Maybe, they think, they should write a horror movie about a maniac with a bag over his head. Or maybe (it’s all very Blair Witch, indefinite) there is a maniac with a bag over his head.
Gerwig played the lead in Hannah Takes the Stairs, which turned Bujalski-type fumbling into shtick. She’s better here—a child-woman whose giddiness turns out to be self-serving. Actually, all four of these people are children; they don’t need a low-rent Jason Voorhees because they punish one another enough. Too bad the movies collapses at the end when we find out what’s really going on. Baghead is so much more vivid when it’s indefinite.