To echo one of the survivors’ words from the roundtable interview (read our story on it here) some horror fans are bound to be disappointed by Baghead. But this is a group with a much better sense of humor than it often gets credit for. Sam Raimi owes his livelihood to this audience, and the Duplass Brothers’ latest throws more respect their way than the shameless, teen-skewed retreads currently churned out by the studios.

The story centers on four struggling actors: handsome Matt, his ex Catherine, her younger competition Michelle, and her blatant admirer Chad. The foursome cruises the fringe festival circuit, trying to get in on anything with traction (indie vet Jett Garner steals the first 15 minutes of the movie). Naturally the night ends in failure. What else to do but drive to Big Bear and spend the weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods?

Matt gets the brilliant notion the group should co-write a movie starring themselves. Chad is less interested in writing than kissing Michelle, and Michelle is less interested in kissing Chad than sleeping with Matt, providing Catherine doesn’t sleep with him first. If it sounds wacky it isn’t.

Mark and Jay Duplass block scenes like theatre and shoot the scenes like a documentary. The result cuts close to reality. Extremely, uncomfortably close. Whether or not you find it hilarious depends on how much you’re entertained by your own scrapes with rejection and inferiority. It isn’t until the one true baghead starts lurking outside that the movie starts to sing.

Being that the lives of the characters are more painful than amusing, the stars pull out some quietly incredible performances. There is nothing artificial about any of these people. It is exceedingly rare that a scary movie be granted a cast with which an adult audience can identify. Tarty, pretty Michelle comes closest to the blonde knife-bait stereotype, but completely inverted. Rather than the sexually overdriven teenager, we get a full-grown, wannabe-seductress with infantile tendencies (thanks to a crafty, charming turn by Greta Gerwig). Everyone is so real, captured literally zits and all, that the arrival of a potentially real serial killer midway through is like dropping dynamite in a fishing pond, both horrifying and in some intangible way, absurdly funny.

These very real individuals, being actors, hopelessly adopt the behavior of horror movie victims. To go into detail would ruin the pinnacle joy of the film, but there is something darkly, doubly entertaining in seeing the genre’s vapid habits played out in such a candid and incriminating fashion. Not really a gutbuster nor a chest-stabber, Baghead mostly succeeds on its own frank terms, and when the gang starts rearranging the furniture to fend off their stalker, it has a whiff of that old Christopher Guest magic.

photo courtesy of impawards.com