Photograph: StudioCanal
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4 out of 5 stars

Barbarian meets Talk To Me as a bag-headed basement-dweller offers conversations with the dead – for a price

David Hughes

Time Out says

What do cinema audiences want from a horror film? If recent box office is anything to go by, they want to be frightened without cheap ‘jump scare’ tactics. A tantalising and ideally fresh premise, optionally couched in a set of rules it doesn’t break. Psychological terror over the gory excesses of noughties ‘torture porn’. Atmospheric visuals, eerie soundscapes and a cast that takes the premise, however fantastical, absolutely seriously. Above all, they want to not have their intelligence insulted by having the on-screen avatars for their catharsis do, you know, dumb shit. If all that’s true, Baghead may just bag itself a franchise.

Screenwriters Christina Pamies and Bryce McGuire (Night Swim) do a commendable job of expanding Alberto Corredor’s award-winning 2017 short, which asked the question ‘What would you give to have two more minutes with a dead loved one?’ For in the basement of a derelict German pub, inherited by cash-strapped twentysomething Iris (The Witcher’s Freya Allan) on the death of her estranged father (Peter Mullan), dwells a bag-headed creature with the power to transform into a dead loved one for a two-minute chat. But like the demonic spirits in Talk to Me, blow the time limit and there’ll be hell to pay. 

Against the advice of bestie Katie (Bridgerton’s Ruby Barker) – and dodging the question of whether or not a tortured supernatural creature should be exploited for cash – Iris grants a grieving widower an audience with the creature. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong, and as Iris delves deeper into the mystery – and her late father’s role in it – a terrible secret is unearthed, with horrifying ramifications for Iris and her grisly inheritance.

Grief is fertile territory for horror, but while the script picks at Baghead’s thematic underpinnings, Corredor skips all but the most essential exposition, staying focused on delivering what the audience wants. A horror film’s effectiveness often comes down to the commitment of its lead, however, and Allan rises to the challenge, giving Iris some unexpectedly jagged edges and proving herself more than capable of anchoring even Baghead’s more outré excesses.

A thing with a burlap sack on its head may not sound scary, but neither does a whitewashed Captain Kirk Halloween mask or novelty ghost face until they come at you with a kitchen knife. Like those horror icons, this sack-faced ghoul deserves another outing.

In UK cinemas Jan 26.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Alberto Corredor
  • Screenwriter:Bryce McGuire, Christina Pamies
  • Cast:
    • Freya Allan
    • Jeremy Irvine
    • Ruby Barker
    • Peter Mullan
    • Saffron Burrows
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