Earlier this week, PJ and I watched Baghead on DVD. Baghead is about four unemployed (and unsuccessful) actors who, after seeing an underground director’s sub-par work, decide that they can write and star in their own movie with at least as much success as the bad director seems to be enjoying. To write the movie, they decide to go out to a remote cabin in the woods and do nothing else over a weekend. Here’s the trailer:

The only thing I had heard (from PJ) about the film before seeing it was that it was a mumblecore movie, a genre that I really like. I’ve previously blogged about two movies by Andrew Buljalski and three movies by Joe Swanberg.

Calling this movie “mumblecore,” however, doesn’t quite turn out to be true, but it’s certainly a good starting point for understanding how the film establishes certain generic expectations and then purposefully abandons those expectations.

For example, Baghead very much conforms to mumblecore conventions by being shot with a hand-held camera. The focus on the four friends’ conversations, especially in the film’s opening few scenes, is typical mumblecore. (In other words, they talk about the random things that real-life friends talk about and in ways that real people talk.) And finally, Mark Duplass, the co-writer and co-director, and Greta Gerwig have starred in other mumblecore films: Gerwig was in LOL and both starred in Hannah Takes the Stairs. Gerwig also co-wrote the latter movie. (The mumblecore filmmakers all collaborate with one another frequently.)

But Baghead also departs from these conventions. Most notably, this movie has an actual plot: the four friends go out to the cabin and, when they think up an idea for their movie, the idea seems to come to life (and ends up stalking them with a knife). What starts as a typical mumblecore movie slowly develops into a kind of horror/slasher movie.

I really liked this film. First off, I love the genre and I loved what the Mark and Jay Duplass do with the genre through their direction and writing. The film is full of plot twists and turns, and, just when you think you have it all figured out, it twists and turns again.

The four primary actors are also all really good. I especially liked Steve Zissis‘s performance as Chad, a schlub with a crush on another of the actors, Michelle, played by Gerwig, who is attracted to Matt, played by Ross Partridge, who is involved in an off-again, on-again relationship with the fourth friend, Catherine, played by Elise Muller. Zissis is the likable guy we root for even when we know the odds are against him.

All in all, this is a very entertaining movie.