I guess one would have to call this a post-postmodern film, in that it
is a self-consciously post-modern film about the making of post-modern
films. Frankly, that's about as much "meta" as I can handle.
A group of indie actors, realizing that they are not going to be
working steadily, are inspired to make their own film by a fellow
performer who did just that to get himself a starring role. What does it
take? If the film requires no lighting or special effects, and assuming
they write the script and play all the parts themselves, they can do it
for a few hundred dollars with a home-quality digital video camera and an
idea. The latter is the real problem. Even the most sincere indie effort
requires some kind of idea. How to come up with one?
"Hey, I know. Let's lock ourselves in a cabin in the woods for an
entire weekend and concentrate on nothing else but creating our film."
They give that a try but, human nature being what it is, other things
get in the way. Alcohol, for example. And love. The group consists of two
single young men and two single young women and the predictable romantic
interactions between them, which are more complicated than they need to be
because one of the women is pursuing one of the guys, while the other guy
pursues her. Chemistry rules the evening and no movie starts to emerge.
While they are out there the first night, one of the women sees
something in the woods which seems to be a man with a grocery bag over his
head. It is apparently not The Unknown Comic. She then dreams of the
Baghead. Over breakfast she tells the others of her experiences. Are they
frightened? Not at all. The leader of the group snaps his fingers and
says, "That's our Hitler!" Metaphorically.
The Baghead is just the movie
idea they need.
Now the movie, indeed both movies, begin in earnest: the one they are
in, and the one they are writing. They are four people in the words being
scared by a guy with a bag over his head while they write a movie about
four people in the woods being scared by a guy with bag over his head. And they are
in a movie. The one you are watching.
Why don't they have the good sense to go home and finish their movie
script in safety? And just who is the Baghead? I guess those mysteries are
the reasons why you should be intrigued by the movie. The only way I'll
spoil it is by noting that it is ultimately not a horror film, although it
shares some of that genre's characteristics. It is a film about the
process of making films.
That all sounds kinda cheesy on paper, but this mumblecore film
actually has some good ideas, and the resolution actually provides a
sensible explanation. Unfortunately, the basic ideas are ruined by two
elements: poor acting and improvised dialogue. Let's face it, when people
get a camera stuck in their faces and are told to start improvising, they
do not come up with witty and interesting things to say unless they happen
to be Robin Williams or Larry David or John C Reilly. Even great writers
like David don't come up with brilliant dialogue in this way. They write
and polish and test out the material on friends and co-authors. Then they
throw out the stuff that fails. Most of our daily conversations, even
those of writers, are mundane or derivative, and therein lies the
essential problem with all mumblecore movies. Even when the films start
with a good idea, that spark is snuffed by 90 minutes of boring dialogue
which lacks not only the polish a writer would add, but also the very
presence of a writer.
Here's a tip for you youngsters: actors and writers are two different
kinds of people. You would not hire plumbers to do your algebra homework,
so why would you ask actors to write your movie? Doing so might make the
experience seem real, but you can get that same real experience by
listening to your parents babble over breakfast. If you think other people
would be interested in those same parental conversations that bore you,
then you definitely have a future as a mumblecore filmmaker. But if you
still feel the need to eat and pay the rent, you may want to keep your
bartending job at Applebee's.