Reel Shorts | Baghead & The Strangers

29 05 2008

Filmmakers have been warning filmgoers for close to 50 years that secluded hotels, cabins and motels are not the place to be if safety is your primary objective. Two new films, “Baghead” and “The Strangers” drive home this terrifying point with mixed results.

After a fellow independent filmmaker wins a festival prize, two friends and their female companions hole up in an isolated cabin trying to devise ideas for a winning film of their own in the massive waste of time, “Baghead.” Writers/Directors Jay and Mark Duplass create a bare bones story of a fledgling filmmaker, Matt (Ross Partridge) who with the help of some friends tries to create the “perfect” horror film. As the group of friends settles in, large quantities of alcohol and sexual energy keep the group unfocused – until a mysterious person with a bag over his head begins to make their presence known.

With suspicions running high and plenty of mistrust between the foursome, it doesn’t take long for this situation to escalate out of control. Filled with some of the worst dialogue of any film this year, the film’s tone doesn’t match the situation that the filmmakers are trying to create plus there’s not one character that any filmgoer will remotely care about. By the time the story begins to evolve, you’ll be left wondering HOW you can get back the lost time – while quickly dashing for the theater exits. The film is a bore, unimaginative and the payoff is patently absurd.

While “Baghead” is the perfect example of a bad horror thriller, writer/director Bryan Bertino has stumbled on to a winning formula with the incredibly scary thriller, “The Strangers.” Based on a true story that occurred in 2005, a young couple has the misfortune of being in the wrong cabin on the wrong night and they are terrorized by a hooded/masked family of killers who are more interested in traumatizing the couple than slaying them.

After attending at a friend’s wedding, James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKa (Liv Tyler) arrive at the Hoyt family cabin, but neither is in a mood to celebrate. In preparation of their pending engagement, Hoyt has the cabin full of rose petals, candles and champagne only to have his heart shattered when McKa fails to accept his proposal. As the two are trying to decide the future of their relationship, their solitude is interrupted by a loud knock on the door. That interruption would begin the couple’s slow, torturous decent into certified madness as family of psychos stalk the unsuspecting couple.

Much to Bertino’s credit, he uses smart camera angles and mostly plausible storytelling to not only keep the strong tension growing, but eliminates the use of many of the formulaic devices primarily used to elicit cheap audience thrills. In one scene, the young suspecting woman is momentarily distracted when at a distance a suited figure emerges with a bag over his head. While your initial reaction is to laugh, very soon that humor to horror as you get the growing sense that these mysterious people are not content to kill them but to scare them to their core.

Using old music and thunderous pounding, the couple is not only trying to avoid death but the Bertino has created a mood that doesn’t allow them to think clearly. He also avoids familiar stereotypes such as the crying woman who is so afraid that she falls/crawls to her doom. While admittedly not a fan of the horror/thriller genre, “The Strangers” signals a fresh new perspective and voice that even exceeds the creativity and popularity of the “Saw” franchise.

What is so amazing about “The Strangers” is the vast amount of time that Bertino keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Much like the “Terminator,” our killers will not stop until their prey is not only dead, but also scared out of their wits. While you can figure out the outcome, the film never feels predictable or boring and while our heroes battle mightily, you never feel that they have a fair chance of survival.

When a terrified McKa asks her masked assailants, “why are you doing this?” one can sense true film finality in the cold, barren answer: “you were home!” What is interesting is that both films use the same visual device and while it works splendidly in “The Strangers,” it leaves you limp in “Baghead.” Some will say that we all wear the mask, but some films pull it off much more effectively than others.

Grade
Baghead: D- | The Strangers: B+

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5 responses

29 05 2008
hoyt family | Lasts information

[…] Cheap Thrills | Baghead & The StrangersAfter attending at a friend’s wedding, James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKa (Liv Tyler) arrive at the Hoyt family cabin, but neither are in a mood to celebrate. In preparation of their pending engagement, Hoyt has the cabin full …FilmGordon – https://filmgordon.wordpress.com […]

29 05 2008
strangers

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30 05 2008
hoyt family | Information Blog

[…] Cheap Thrills | Baghead & The Strangers12 hours ago by filmgordon After attending at a friend’s wedding, James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKa (Liv Tyler) arrive at the Hoyt family cabin, but neither are in a mood to celebrate. In preparation of their pending engagement, Hoyt has the cabin full …FilmGordon – https://filmgordon.wordpress.com […]

11 06 2008
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11 06 2008
stranger safety

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