I absolutely hated this movie the first time I watched it, but unlike most films I instantly hated, I can’t blame the director (or in this case ‘directors’, as this was directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass). The blame lies mostly in the marketing of this film, which made it seem like this is a parody of the slasher film. It isn’t, it really isn’t. The film uses the set up of a slasher movie to portray a relationship between actors in their late twenties and early thirties. This makes the film a subversion, not a parody. So if you watch this film knowing what you’re getting into, it makes the film much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, the climax doesn’t quite hold up, which makes it less enjoyable than it should be.
The film follows four wannabe actors: Chad (Steve Zissis), Matt (Ross Partridge), Michelle (Greta Gerwig), and Catherine (Elise Muller), who decide to go on a camping trip to write a movie they can all star in. Eventually they decide to write a horror movie featuring a villain with a bag over his head. As the weekend progresses, it becomes obvious that they are all more interested in hooking up than they are at making a movie. Just as they decide to call it quits, they realize that they are being watched by a hulking figure with a bag over his head. When they realize that their car’s battery has been stolen, they try to escape their cabin, but can they survive Baghead’s wrath?
The beginning of this film has one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen. The film starts with the main characters watching an absolutely horrendous short film called “We Are The Naked” at an LA Film Festival, followed by an equally hilarious Q&A from the director. The humor is dry and subtle, and sets up the characters nicely. This subtle character based humor is presents in the first half of the film, and keeps the audience engaged with the movie. This is important as not too much happens, except for the exploration of the characters’ relationship. The film really doesn’t fall apart until the introduction of Baghead, who doesn’t do much. Granted, he does look pretty scary, his simple costume reminiscent of the Zodiac Killer, but all he does is hulk about. This could have been threatening, but he isn’t. This wouldn’t bother me-this isn’t really a horror movie after all-but Baghead isn’t interesting at all. Watching this movie, I get the feeling that the Duplass brothers aren’t really that big a fans of Slasher films, or if they are, they are inept at shooting anything other than clever dialogue. The escape scene near the climax of the film is one of the most painfully boring things I’ve ever watched. If the film could have kept up with the cleverness of the first half, I think this movie could have worked, but as it is, the film becomes a chore to watch.
Adding to the boredom of the film is the cinema veritè –style cinematography. Just about every shot is done with a handheld camera. Now obviously, handheld camerawork can be used to increase realism, and create a feeling of disorientation and panic, but while the camerawork in this film does give a sense of realism, it’s realism is more akin to the realism of Andy Warhol’s Empire. Granted, this type of filmmaking is actually a plot point in the film, but the Duplass brothers really misused it in this movie.
While I may have maligned the plotting of the movie, the dialogue is very natural, and funny. The characters also act like real people (further proving that this is nothing like a slasher movie), except for at the end, but it still makes sense. The actors all have great chemistry together, coming off as actual friends, and not just plot devices. My biggest complaint about them is that they are somewhat bland, and I often had to go back to my notes to remember who was who. To be fair, I think that this was the point; these were supposed to be subtle parodies of shallow wannabes who are mediocre and don’t realize it. Despite their blandness, the characters and their relationships were expertly handled, and it makes me think that the Duplass Brothers are better at creating characters than giving them something to do.
I honestly don’t hate this movie, I just don’t like it very much; and even then, I kind of feel bad for not liking it. This is a smart movie that portrays relationships, both romantic and platonic, in a humorous, realistic way. The problem is that while it’s both intelligent and realistic, the movie just doesn’t have enough to keep it interesting. The pacing is sluggish, the thrills are non-existent, the characters-while expertly played- are bland, the visuals are dull, and the film doesn’t leave much of an impact. If this film had been thirty minutes instead of an hour and thirty minutes, I probably could have forgiven it its faults. As is, I can only recommend this to people who think that the problems of white thirty-something hipsters make for good cinema.
Marshall Oliver Estes 10/20/2011
For more in the series:
Hardly Horror — An Introduction: Beware, You Are In For No Scares
Hardly Horror Part 1 — The Vampire: Ganja and Hess (1973)
Hardly Horror Part 3 — The Werewolf: The Company of Wolves (1984)
Hardly Horror Part 4 – The Zombie: Fido (2006)