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Director: Alberto Corredor
Screenplay: Christina Pamies, Bruce McGuire, Lorcan Reilly
Starring: Freya Allen, Ruby Barker, Jeremy Irvine
Review: RJ Bland
Basements. Why are they so bloody scary? No, we don't mean the ones that have had a fancy conversion and have been repurposed as a teenager's bedroom or something. We're talking about the dark, dank subterranean storage rooms that are filled with cobwebs and smell of must. There's something just off about them isn't there? They sort of feel like a crossover between a room in a house and some kind of crypt. Bad things lurk down there, even if it's just in our imaginations and film-makers have been tapping into our innate fears of these spaces for decades. The Evil Dead (the ankle scene!), Silence of the Lambs (Night vision goggles!), The Conjuring (hand clapping!), Don't Breathe (Turkey Baster!), Barbarian (Christ alive!) are just a few that feature basement frights but there are many more where they came from. Like lofts (shudders), basements are always going to give you the willies to some degree. They're the place where bodies are stashed and where ghosts reside and where occult paraphernalia languishes. And in the case of Alberto Corredor's Baghead, a place where a shape shifting entity that can raise the dead, is concealed.
Iris (Freya Allen) is a cash-strapped, down-on-her-luck twenty something who has just been turfed out of her London apartment. Just when you think she's reached rock bottom, she gets a phone-call telling her that her estranged father has passed away and she is needed to come and identify his body. Turns out, her old man (played by the always wonderful Peter Mullan) lived in Berlin and Iris catches a flight to Germany to get things settled. Although her father has left her no money, Iris learns that she has inherited a rather large but derelict old pub. Her father has also left her a VHS tape. There, from beyond the grave, he explains to her that there is an insidious entity dwelling in the basement. It’s a shapeshifting malevolent spirit with a special gift. If you give it an item belonging to someone you have lost, it will transform itself into that person and you get two minutes to speak to the undead. Whoever signs the deed unwittingly becomes the gatekeeper and is responsible for keeping the spirit from getting out into the world. Iris learns this after she has signed on the dotted line of course. But when a man turns up in the early hours of the morning offering thousands of pounds for the chance to speak to his dead wife for two minutes, Iris sees a way to get out of her financial troubles. What could go wrong?!
I know what you’re thinking. This all sounds a little familiar. Resurrecting the dead for a couple of minutes so you can have a quick chinwag. There’s no denying that the central hook of the film sounds eerily similar to last year’s smash horror Talk to Me by the Philippou brothers. And unfortunately it does the film no favours. It doesn’t matter than Baghead is based on a short film of the same name that Director Alberto Corredor made back in 2017. It just feels ‘too soon’. The fact that Talk to Me is a much better film also doesn’t help either…
Baghead isn’t offensively bad or anything like it. It’s perfectly watchable and occasionally creepy. Corredor’s direction is straightforward but effective and the thing with a bag on its head being kept in the basement is suitably horrible. Whilst Talk to Me felt fresh and bold and youthful, Baghead is a much more traditional horror picture and revels in its murky gothic setting, with old creepy photos adorning flaky walls and a light level that never gets brighter than dim. The result is a subtly uneasy atmosphere that will appeal to those who like chilly ghost stories but the decision to introduce us to Baghead so early on - and to show her so often - means that she quickly loses her power to frighten. The decision to detail her origin story in a lazily written exposition dump isn’t particularly welcome. We don’t always need to have everything explained, guys! (See Talk to Me as a reference point).
Despite clocking in at only around 90 minutes, Baghead also feels a bit too stretched. By introducing the basement dwelling monster and the rules so early, we find ourselves with a bit too much time to fill and the film loses some momentum. There is at least an opportunity to spend time on some character building but frustratingly, the script is much more concerned with a rather plodding plot. Although there are no issues with the central performances themselves, the relationship between Iris (Freya Allen) and Katie, her bestie (Ruby Barker) remains disappointingly flimsy. To compound this, both are guilty of some infuriatingly silly decisions the closer we get to the film's climax, which is also a bit too befuddling to be considered satisfying.
Unflattering comparisons to Talk to Me may be a little unfair. But despite a chilly atmosphere and a few scares, Baghead loses most of its mystery and intrigue quite early thanks to an overly dense plot and not enough character focus.
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