The Plot: Iris (Freya Allan) returns home when she discovers that her estranged father Owen (Peter Mullan) is dead. He did not die peacefully. She inherits the derelict pub that he ran, which comes with an added bonus: a shapeshifting creature called Baghead that lives in the shadows of the basement. For a short period of time, it grants those who dare the ability to commune with the dead as it takes on the form of a lost loved one. Neil (Jeremy Irvine) is particularly keen on talking to his late wife and pushes the creature for answers. However, the creature cannot be so easily controlled or contained…
The Verdict: The Bloody New Year of horror got off to a soggy start a few weeks ago with Night Swim, which utterly failed to even be scary. It was based on a short film and contained a lot of dull narrative padding to fill out the running time. Now it’s over to the next sacrificial offering Baghead to try and lift the spirits, otherworldly or otherwise. It’s also an expansion of a short film from director Alberto Corredor and co-writer Lorcan Reilly. Both of them make their feature debut here with a dark tale involving the thrill and danger of communing with the dead via an entity that lives in a basement. Have these characters never seen a horror film before? These stories come at a life-threatening cost and don’t exactly end well. Just look at last year’s sleeper hit Talk To Me, of which Baghead shares some similarities.
Baghead isn’t the most original of horror films. It’s certainly derivative of any number of horrors involving some sort of boogeyman or entity that the lead character has to confront and face her fear before it scares her to death. The Baghead entity is also less effective when there’s a CGI ghoul that pops up for some jump scares (there’s at least one good one in there though). There’s a storied backstory to Baghead, giving it a centuries-spanning tragic past which mutated into tentative co-operation with its master and dark vengeance when it was not placated. That grounds it in a combination of the past and the present, rooted further in a story of Iris reconnecting with her late father. Without that deeper personal connection efficiently spinning away in the narrative, this would just be another throwaway horror.
This is a moody, creepily effective horror that takes itself seriously, not playing a single moment for laughs to relieve audience tension. Corredor is more into tightening the screws on his characters until they’re ready to pop. He builds an atmos of fear from early on and holds it to the end, when supernatural events really go off the rails – but in a good way that is agreeable with the general tone of the film. The casting is also quite intriguing. Peter Mullan and Jeremy Irvine are known as serious, dramatic actors who don’t generally dip their toes into the bloody waters of horror. By going against type, they bring some gravitas to their roles as men who are out of their depth and playing with fire. Freya Allan also does a decent job as the female corrective to this male arrogance, a go-between and a problem solver in this supernatural battle of wills.
Baghead doesn’t set itself apart enough to qualify as essential viewing, but it does at least maintain enough momentum to be the first halfway-decent popcorn horror of the year. It does its job and that’s enough to get it across the line without drowning itself in cliches and diet horror non-scares. If he can hold his nerve, Corredor might have a promising career in horror.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Baghead (UK / 16 / 95 mins)
In short: Creepily effective
Directed by Alberto Corredor.
Starring Freya Allan, Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Saffron Burrows, Ned Dennehy.