In their indie sensation The Puffy Chair, writer/directors Mark and Jay Duplass used the retrieval of a piece of furniture to explore the relationship between a close-knit trio. Their studio follow-up represents something both fresh and familiar. Not to be confused with the children's book of the same name, Baghead retains their emphasis on character over plot mechanics, but this time they infuse their humorous approach with horror overtones. Matt (Ross Partridge), Chad (Steve Zissis), Catherine (Elise Muller), and Michelle (Greta Gerwig, who appears with Mark Duplass in Hannah Takes the Stairs) work as extras in Los Angeles. Matt convinces them to accompany him to his family cabin to write a script in which they all get to star. As they collaborate, it becomes apparent that Chad has eyes for Michelle and that Matt and Catherine have been an on-and-off thing for years. The screenplay becomes an excuse to organize their personal and professional lives, until Michelle spots a man with a brown paper bag on his head skulking in the woods. Is he a manifestation of the emotions roiling between the quartet, a psychotic killer, or a friend playing a cruel trick? Baghead turns into a frisky take on The Blair Witch Project, except the Duplass Brothers have more than thrills in mind, since it takes a spooky dude to remind these self-absorbed actors about the importance of friendship. The concept may be slight and the execution rudimentary, but the makers of Baghead have devised an unexpectedly poignant romp. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
What does one make of a movie whose plot revolves around second-rate actors who scare each other by wearing bags on their heads? This conundrum and more are exploited to strong effect by young directing team Mark and Jay Duplass, in their low-budget, grade Z cult comedy, Baghead. This follow up to their debut effort, The Puffy Chair, stars two couples who head to their parents’ cabin in an attempt to make their own horror film free from the constraints of the film industry. Brothers, Matt (Ross Partridge) and Chad (Steve Zissis), host bimbos Michelle (Greta Gerwig) and Catherine (Elise Muller) on a weekend adventure that is less than intellectually stimulating. As sexual tensions increase, brown paper bags are busted out and the characters seek revenge upon each other by pretending to be masked peeping toms. This meta-narrative of a movie about the making of the movie is further confused when the bunch suspects that there is an extra baghead on the scene, a really psychotic one. A few actually scary moments add gusto to this film that mostly feels like a po’ man’s rendition of Blair Witch Project, with its hand-held camera stylings. Highlights throughout involve Chad, the nerdier, uglier brother who manages many funny lines and boosts the humor bigtime. That Baghead is a fairly terrible film, with slow, moronic dialogue and long scenes in which little or nothing happens, may well be intentional. It’s impossible to judge. Baghead is so ripe with irony that it bags the idea that it’s cool to strive towards making a fine film, and the story gives up on trying to be good before it even tries. The characters start washed-up and stay washed-up, as does the movie. But this strange resignation that makes Baghead awful is also what makes it conceptually unique; the Duplass brothers did, after all, complete the film and release it. One wonders why directors bother making a movie that presumes itself worthy of wearing a baghead? This is Baghead’s virtue—it left me feeling as if I had a bag over my head, dumb for missing some bit of subversive genius. --Trinie Dalton
Filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass have written a celebrity blog for us to promote their new film, Baghead.
Why the hell are we trying to make a horror film about a guy with a paper bag on his head? This, even more than “to be or not to be” was the question for myself and my brother Jay going into shooting Baghead. We had just come off of our first micro-budget feature The Puffy Chair, a sensitive, funny, quirky relationship movie that wowed Sundance, sold big, played incredibly well in theaters, DVD, and TV, and gained us favor in the indie world the world over. So, again, why would we be so stupid as to make a horror movie based around a guy with a bag on his head?
I’m still not quite sure. When I look back, what we should have done is clear… we should have made another relationship movie to cash in on Puffy’s success. But, we were compelled to make Baghead, so we did it. And then something really interesting happened. We discovered that we are hopelessly and helplessly ourselves on set. For example, even if something terrifying was happening in the horror plot, we couldn’t help training the camera on all of the little personal dynamics happening among the 4 lead characters, just like we did on The Puffy Chair. No matter how eerie or cool-looking our lighting got, we were infinitely more obsessed with the chubby guy whose advances were being rejected by the hottie girl.
About a week into filming, we realized we had something VERY different on our hands. We had a horror movie shell… “guy with bag on head comes to get 4 people in a cabin in the woods.” We all know this set-up, right? Not too original. But, we were making a highly sensitive relationship dramedy inside of this horror film because, in the end, that’s what Jay and I know how to do best and that’s what we love showing.
So, basically, we started panicking. How do you make a movie work that’s scary, funny, and (ultimately) endearing and touching as we understand the nature of our desperate, sweet, tragically flawed lead characters? The answer was… I hope we don’t @&*# it up.
On week 2, we happened to catch a glimpse of the film Saw on TV, and it became clearer to us how Baghead could be a really interesting film for this time frame in cinema. Saw is great in its own right, but it’s mean, it’s gory, and it’s not really scary. Somehow, the crazy sound design, gore, and effects, took the film further and further away from being actually scary. Whereas, with Baghead, we somehow stumbled into something genuinely frightening, with our $50,000 budget, no sound f/x, no score, no make-up… just a ridiculous paper bag and the question of “who the hell is under that bag?” So, we started to feel smart. Confident. Inspired in new ways. We even waxed philosophical about how brilliant we were to “come up with his concept” (that we totally lucked into, btw)…
On week 3, we finished the shoot and all looked at each other a little shell shocked. What did we just do? Is this movie even gonna work? Cut to a year later. We’re opening the film at the Sundance Film Festival and every buyer is calling us, making insanely inflated offers, asking us how we came up with such a brilliant, genre-smashing concept.
I guess it kinda comes down to the old adage our dad used to tell us… “I’d rather be lucky than good.”
--Mark & Jay Duplass
While the Duplass Brothers were shooting their last feature film The Puffy Chair, a crew member raised the question "what's the scariest thing you can think of?" Someone immediately said "a guy with a bag on his head staring into your window." Some agreed, but some thought it was downright ridiculous and, if anything, funny (but definitely not scary). Thus, BAGHEAD was born, an attempt to take the absurdly low-concept idea of a "guy with a bag on his head" and make a funny, truthful, endearing film that, maybe, just maybe, was a little bit scary, too.