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Originally published Friday, August 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Baghead": the horrors of relationships and indie films

"Baghead" — directed by brothers Mark and Jay Duplass — is a silly, familiar sendup of "The Blair Witch Project."

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Baghead," with Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, Elise Muller. Written and directed by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass. 84 minutes. Rated R for language, some sexual content and nudity. Varsity.

The Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay, created the very independent and quite original 2005 romantic comedy "The Puffy Chair." They're following it up with this silly, familiar sendup of "The Blair Witch Project."

"Baghead" feels like a bit of a comedown, although the picture does have its amusing moments — and a few frightening ones that are designed to play with your expectations. The plot is simple, but only in retrospect.

After watching an underground film-festival screening of "We Are Naked," an excruciatingly personal movie that was produced for $1,000 (the filmmaker apologizes for going over-budget), two immature couples are inspired to retreat to a cabin in the woods to write a screenplay for a cheapie horror movie.

Hunky Matt (Ross Partridge) and self-absorbed Catherine (Elise Muller) are an off-and-on couple, wannabe actors who haven't had much professional success. They're not faring well on the personal front either. Neither are their companions.

The seductive Michelle (Greta Gerwig) is more interested in Matt than she is in Chad (Steve Zissis), Matt's longtime pal. She'd prefer to be "just friends" with the amiable but frustrated Chad while she pursues Matt.

Since "We Are Naked" was the creation of a friend, they're convinced they can write better material for themselves. But they're more efficient at boozing than at creating a reasonable outline for a script.

When Michelle dreams that she's being watched, the dreams appear to have some basis in fact. When a menacing man with a bag over his head turns up, the shaky nature of the foursome's relationships is revealed. The characters turn on each other and flirt with catastrophe.

For much of the picture's relatively brief running time, the filmmakers leave us wondering: What kind of movie is this? Is it a comedy, a horror film, a psychic thriller (how seriously should we take those dreams?) or is it a straightforward drama with something to say about trust and friendship?

Too bad the characters are so rote. The women are almost nonentities, and the bond between the men borders on the maudlin. The actors are often better than their lines.

At its best, "Baghead" is a knowing insiders' sendup of the indie film scene. At worst, it's just a smarter "Blair Witch" wannabe.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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