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Baghead Could’ve Been A Real Gem, Alas

Image courtesy of STUDIOCANAL International

It’s very rare that a trailer will actually convince me a film I know nothing about is worth seeing. Even rarer will a horror movie trailer. But Baghead‘s teaser genuinely looked kind of frightening. It belied the intriguing premise but promised some legitimate scares, something in all too short supply in modern horror which has trended towards the explicitly allegorical, sociological, and character driven, often to the detriment of good old fashioned chills. Lately things have been swinging the other way though—I think the hostile reception to Beau is Afraid might mark some kind of watershed in audiences deciding, “actually, can we have subtext back please? This was more fun when films bothered to couch their themes in an actual story”—Baghead promised to be part of this return, away from “metaphorror” to something grislier and more intense but sadly, the film itself never fails to present as something falling short of its very clear potential. There are some solid frights and intense scenes along the way, but it too often runs afoul of that eternal blight on horror, characters making irrational and worse, unmotivated decisions to get the plot where it needs to go.

The film starts promisingly enough, with a premise that’s equal parts realist drama and Gothic cheese. We meet Iris (a not terribly convincing Freya Allen) as she is breaking into the apartment she has just been evicted from because she can’t afford the rent since losing her job. Too proud to crash at her best mate Katie’s (Ruby Barker), she’s thrown a lifeline when she inherits a dilapidated old pub from the no-good Dad (a typically gruff, careworn Peter Mullan, always an absolute champ in any role) who deserted her years ago. Initially it seems there was no love lost between the two and her sudden gift of a living space with potential resale value is just what she needed. However, she soon learns that although her dad was the pub’s owner, that doesn’t mean it’s been left unoccupied now that he’s gone and as the new owner, she’s now become the unwilling caretaker of the titular entity in the basement.

A young woman explores a dark room, using her phone as a flashlight.
Photo: STUDIOCANAL, © 2023

I won’t go further to avoid spoilers, but one thing I can definitely say for Baghead is that it doesn’t hang around. Not long in we get a whole bunch of exposition about the entity and the specific rules surrounding it. Giving your audience more than they expected this early on is a risky tactic in horror, it can be very effective as long as you’ve kept some cards to yourself, showing your whole hand is not a great idea. Baghead first came to light in 2017 as a short film which the director Alberto Corredo has now expanded into a feature, and it’s clear that the genus of the idea is in specific scare scenes where our protagonists interact with the title character. These scenes are disturbing, macabre, well paced and intense and constitute the best parts of the film, but elaborating upon them until you have an actual feature film to sell is trickier and it’s here where Baghead falls into more mundane territory. There are times when it presents as a surprisingly effective chiller, and others where it deteriorates into eye-rolling schlock.

The plot is kicked off in earnest as a result of Iris displaying an extraordinary lack of curiosity and skepticism about a mysterious stranger’s desperate plea to go down into her basement, just assuming her dad hired the place out as a haunted mansion which is an absolutely astonishing leap in logic not remotely supported by the dialogue or performances. It’s so clear that there’s something more at stake and her blasé attitude makes not a lick of sense. Just explain her going along with it in another way! Have her be confused and angry but reluctantly accept, just have her be curious to hear him out, literally anything other than her plucking this false pretext out of thin air! It would’ve been so easy not to make this rushed plot point so unintentionally funny.

The scene that ensues is pretty great and once we get into the backstory that’s pretty fun too, I do think the general reception to this film has been on the harsh side for a film that’s generally watchable with as many legitimately creepy moments as it has duff ones. But no, it’s not a future classic in the making, that much is assured, and honestly, if you’d taken some of the components here and expanded upon them differently, maybe it could’ve been? Maybe that’s being too kind, but for a cheesy B-movie horror, Baghead is as solid as many as Shudder original and better than you might have heard. If you’re looking for a one-and-done, ninety minute chiller to make you close the closet doors at night, you really could do a lot worse. If nothing else, it’s just great to see Peter Mullan on a multiplex screen, and I am going to shoehorn a recommendation for his directorial debut Orphans into this review, that film really is a masterpiece waiting to be rediscovered and definitely do seek that out at the very least.

Written by Hal Kitchen

A graduate of the University of Kent, Reviews Editor Hal Kitchen joined Film Obsessive as a freelance writer in May 2020 following their postgraduate studies in Film with a specialization in Gender Theory and Studies. In November 2020 Hal assumed their role as Reviews Editor. Since then, Hal has written extensively for the site, writing analytical and critical pieces on film, and has represented the site at international film festivals including The London Film Festival and Panic Fest.

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