With their 2005 indie sleeper The Puffy Chair, the Duplass brothers joined the growing ranks of low-fi digital filmmakers bypassing the usual cinematic gatekeepers, and just making a film on the fly. Their fiendishly clever follow-up, Baghead, pokes merciless fun at the very same DIY aesthetic that called it into existence, wondering aloud whether there's a certain creative bankruptcy to a bunch of friends getting together and deciding to make a movie. When four such friends head off into the woods for a moviemaking weekend, their spitballing session devolves into a fruitless evening of boozy chitchat, yielding not a single good idea. They're inspired by the notion of being filmmakers, but the reality of being one isn't for the half-assed.
Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, and Elise Muller play the would-be writer-actor-directors of this little project, which finally comes to life when Muller dreams (or does she?) of an intruder with a bag on his head. From there, an excited Partridge takes the lead in turning the baghead concept into a Blair Witch-style horror thriller with the loose structure and improvised dialogue of other mumblecore productions. Meanwhile, the whole situation is complicated by some relationship issues among the quartet, most of them revolving around Gerwig, who bats away the clumsy advances of her pudgy friend Zissis while taking a romantic interest in Partridge. When a fifth figure who appears to be an actual baghead killer starts stalking the cabin, the film's tone lurches suddenly into real horror.
Much of the fun of Baghead is that it's unclassifiable, by turns a movie-movie lark, an Eric Rohmer-like relationship comedy, and a surprisingly effective Friday The 13th kids-in-the-woods slasher film. The Duplasses are self-deprecating about their craft, but they're obviously skilled enough to incorporate a nerve-jangling variety of tones while keeping them all in balance. Baghead is a slight movie by design—a lark about the making of a lark—but it goes further than expected in exploring the core issues of no-budget independent filmmaking and what can or cannot be accomplished. It's also a good argument for picking up a camera and shooting away—provided you have something worth shooting, of course.