Despite Some Good Performances, Baghead Should Probably Be Sacked

Movies Reviews alberto corredor
Despite Some Good Performances, Baghead Should Probably Be Sacked

It’s taken horror cinema two years to start cribbing from Barbarian, and merely one to crib from Talk to Me; basic conceits and ideas from both collide in Alberto Corredor’s Baghead, a “monster in the basement” film hinging on a time limit. The monster is Baghead (Anne Müller), a decrepit creepy crawly crone slapped with a tragically uninventive appellation and burdened with the power of resurrection: Feed her an object that belonged to one’s dearly departed, and she’ll invoke the dead’s form and let their loved ones speak to them from beyond the veil. 

There’s a catch, of course: Should the ghostly reunion take too long – over two minutes, not unlike the ticking clock of Talk to Me — Baghead takes over the summoned soul’s visage to torment hapless petitioners by saying cutting, biting things about them. She also kills them, presumably. This is the trap that Iris (Freya Allan) falls into when her estranged father Owen (Peter Mullan) kicks it, passing down custodianship of the centuries-old pub that he’s run for ages to her. Baghead’s tenancy goes unmentioned in the flurry of ensuing paperwork, but once it does, she must weigh the pros of owning the broken-down place (free lodging) with the cons (there’s a hideous devil in the cellar).

Baghead is moody and atmospheric enough (if low on scares) for about the first hour. Allan’s wide-eyed wariness aids the exercise; Iris is going through a lot in the present, and has gone through more throughout her life, as Owen hasn’t been a part of it for the majority. Dangling the choice before accepting security she desperately lacks, which in turn comes with a meaningful hitch, is a nice bit of moral horror drama; Baghead can’t actually do anything unless some grief-stricken schmuck comes calling at the pub and convinces Iris to let them see her. Maintaining occupancy above a bar whose bottom floor houses a shambling and strictly harmless abomination seems a fine compromise in horror cinema’s context. It could be worse! Iris could have Leatherface as her roommate instead of Baghead, with all the attendant meat-hooked bodies. 

Of course, there is a grief-stricken schmuck who comes calling at the pub: Neil (Jeremy Irvine), shown in the film’s opening trying to bribe Owen to let him see Baghead. Fun as it is watching Irvine flop-sweat in a petulant tizzy, Baghead deploys Neil as a catch-all solution to its script problems; he’s a hero when a hero is necessary, and a wretched cad when somehow Baghead herself isn’t enough of a heavy to satisfy Corredor’s confidence. It’s understandable that human characters in the film are inevitable liabilities. But in a rare screenwriting feat, Neil is both over and underwritten – a character with clear emotional investment in Baghead’s power, but who only functions as a secondary heel in a film whose chief antagonist is complex enough not to require any assistance. 

The depth of Neil’s neuroses suggests he’d make a fine alternative to Iris as Baghead’s protagonist rather than an auxiliary villain. (His capitalist ethos also suggests a far more interesting story where supplicants line up at the pub and fork over cash for a visit with Baghead, but that’s a whole different film than the one Corredor has made.) As written, Neil competes with Iris for screen time, Baghead time, and time for developing pathos; Allan consequently is forced to do too much heavy lifting with her performance, so it’s good luck that she has a co-star of Mullan’s caliber to act against. Their dialogue pushes her to find humanity, and specifically poignancy, that the script — from Christina Pamies, Bryce McGuire and Lorcan Reilly – lacks. 

Baghead packs adequate dread into its framework; Müller takes every chance she gets to make the film a little creepier, whether with a curl of a finger, a tilt of her head, or a contorted shrug of her shoulders. Like Allan and Mullan, she busts her ass making up for shortcomings both on the page as well as in the direction (though Corredor’s worst crime is just being workmanlike). Also like Allan and Mullan, Müller can’t fix Baghead’s horror-movie-by-committee problems. She can only give a reason to excuse them (at best) or tolerate them (at worst). If only there was a way to feed the production a bigger budget.

Director: Alberto Corredor
Writers: Christina Pamies, Bryce McGuire, Lorcan Reilly
Starring: Freya Allan, Anne Müller, Peter Mullan, Jeremy Irvine, Ruby Barker
Release Date: April 5, 2024 (Shudder)

Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.

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