Familiarity in horror isn’t always a bad thing.
The genre is filled with so many tropes that some of them act as a handy shortcut for terror. Gloomy basements, ancient curses, and ways to contact the dead are just a few of these, and they all crop up in Alberto Corredor’s Baghead. There’s plenty in the film that feels creepily familiar. The problem is the other stuff in the movie — all the things that wrap around those old tropes — aren’t nearly compelling enough. Instead of using those foundational horror blocks to tell a tense new story, the whole thing just feels stale and unexciting.
What’s Baghead about?
The starting idea isn’t a bad one.
After the sudden death of her estranged father (Peter Mullan), unemployed Iris (Freya Allan) discovers she’s inherited his old pub: a dusty and dilapidated property that just so happens to come with a permanent basement-dwelling tenant. The bad news? As her dad’s pre-death VHS tape informs her, Iris will now be bound to this subterranean creature forever and must follow a set of rules in order to stop it escaping. The good news? It’s got some cool abilities that she might be able to profit from!
Iris’ father’s estate comes with certain…conditions.
Credit: Studio Canal
If you’re thinking that story sounds original enough, just wait until you hear what the monster — a lurching human-shaped figure (Anne Müller) with the titular sack over its head — can do: when it comes face-to-face with someone, it can embody their dead loved one in order to have a conversation from beyond the grave. You just have to set a timer for two minutes, or things start to go wrong.
It’s very reminiscent of Danny and Michael Philippou’s Talk to Me – one of Mashable’s favourite horror movies of 2023 – but unfortunately it doesn’t have the tension, stakes, or shock-factor that made that movie hold you in its grip.
The stakes in Baghead aren’t high enough.
The characters are a big part of the problem. Although the acting in the film is solid all-round, it’s hard to care about Iris, her friend Katie (Ruby Barker), or Neil (Jeremy Irvine), the stranger who turns up desperate to speak to his dead wife. The movie is 94 minutes of mainly plot, and aside from having a strained relationship with her dad, we don’t really learn too much else about Iris. She’s hard up for money, which is her motivation for staying in the property and trying to profit from Baghead, but that’s about it. Katie is a dependable friend for Iris but little else, meanwhile, and Iris’ dad is a fairly two-dimensional recluse.
The characters are all in a life-or-death situation, but it’s hard to get too emotionally invested in people we don’t know, and aren’t given the chance to know.
The acting is solid, but it’s difficult to care about these characters.
Credit: Studio Canal
Is Baghead all bad?
Despite the lack of tension, Baghead does still manage an effective jump scare or two. Corredor’s direction is solid, utilising a few unexpected tricks to keep us on our toes and making the most of the material at hand. Christina Pamies and Bryce McGuire’s script, despite the movie’s overall deficiencies, comes with a few twists and turns to catch us off guard.
Unfortunately it’s not enough to rescue Baghead. The story feels mostly flat, and the modern-day setting clashes awkwardly with the gothic atmosphere the film is shooting for. (Iris uses a smartphone, for instance, but the characters talk to each other as if they’re living in the Victorian era. It’s likely this is intentional — in going back to her dad’s pub, Iris is setting foot into something that’s so old it almost stands outside of time — but the result is still a little jarring.) The final nail in the coffin is the movie’s ending, which trips over itself by trying to throw in one too many twists. There’s some kind of revelation in there, but it’s bogged down in layers of convolution.
Ultimately Baghead has a few promising threads, but the end result is misshapen sack. Watch Talk To Me instead.
How to watch: Baghead is coming to theatres in the UK and Ireland on Jan. 26.