There’s an overwhelming sense of familiarity about Alberto Corredor’s Baghead, and some of it comes from the director himself. A feature length version of his award winning short of the same name from 2017, what was a 15 minute narrative is now the customary hour and a half-plus. It’s a big ask – but that’s only part of the reason for that strong feeling of having been here before.
After the death of her estranged father, Iris (The Witcher’s Freya Allan) finds she’s inherited his old, run-down pub in Germany and travels there in search of the reason why he abandoned her. What she finds in the basement is more than just a family secret: it’s the mysterious and malevolent Baghead. Whoever signs the deed to the property becomes the gatekeeper to a shapeshifter which, on request, can transform itself into the dead. But those using its powers only have two minutes of its time and there are terrifying consequences for anybody breaking that rule – as Iris herself discovers.
Jangle any bells? It should do. This time last year, Australian directors Michael and Danny Philippou were garnering fans and plaudits in equal measure at Sundance with the energy and audacity of their debut feature, Talk To Me. Their group of teenagers couldn’t resist the temptation to conjure up spirits courtesy of an embalmed hand – and faced horrific consequences if they exceeded a time limit. While the duo’s brash style of filmmaking was rooted in a love of old school horror, Baghead’s approach is more straightforward. It’s old school. There’s nothing wrong with that but, given the similarities between the two, last year’s hit makes this week’s new release look deeply old fashioned.
It’s an atmospheric tale, but one that feels stretched to breaking point by a more complicated narrative, bigger cast and expanded running time. Much of the all-pervading gloom comes from the never-ending stream of portrait photographs on the walls, staring back at the camera with eyes as dead as those belonging to the people Baghead conjures up in the basement. But it all falls short when it comes to genuine nerve-jangling and a quick glimpse of Baghead’s inevitably hideous face simply isn’t enough. Not only does the film literally arrive after Talk To Me, it’s also very much in its shadow.
Baghead releases in UK cinemas on 26 January 2024.