I carry regret like a stone around my neck. Time and experience have taught me how to manage it, and for the most part, that stone is nothing more than a pebble. Once in a while it becomes a Boulder, one that stops all forward momentum and drags me down. But that’s the nature of regret, isn’t it? A fixation on the past that prevents us from engaging with the future. 

A good chunk of my regret is the obvious stuff. Do I obsess over acting like an absolute jackass during my sophomore year of college, or that moment of awkwardness at my high school reunion? Hell, yes, and I replay those memories in the middle of the night, like all right-thinking people. Most of us do that, I reckon.

It’s the regrets about the dead that trouble me. The last conversation with my father wasn’t great. The last interaction with my mother wasn’t great. Then they died. I can’t apologize to them, try to explain myself, try to do better. Like that mosquito trapped in amber in Jurassic Park, my relationships with them are frozen in time. They can’t move forward. Only I can do that by myself. 

Guilt, regret, and grief are excellent fodder for movies in general and horror movies in particular. Talk to Me, The Babadook, and Hereditary are only the tip of the emotionally fraught iceberg. Now we have a new entry, Baghead, a film with a smart premise, decent performances, and one that tries (but doesn’t always succeed) to sidestep the old tropes. 

It’s possible that Iris (Freya Allan) has lost everything. She’s been fired from her job, evicted from her tiny London flat, and forced to break back into her flat to get her belongings. Then she receives a phone call, and learns her father has died. They were hardly close, and in fact, Iris and her father Owen (Peter Mullan) had been estranged for years. He vanished into the ether, leaving Iris to watch her mother pass from illness.

Iris learns her father died in Berlin, and that she’s named in the will. This comes as quite a surprise, and in the moment, she’s faced with a choice. Her best friend Katie offers her a couch to crash on, the possibility of a new job, and the kind of support that only comes from a real friend. She can either struggle to put her life together, or see what’s waiting for her in Berlin. Considering she’s not exactly flush with prospects, she hops on a plane.

When Iris arrives, she’s greeted by a Solicitor (Ned Dennehy). Iris learns that Owen’s will was curious, to say the least. Iris is now the owner of The Queen’s Head, a somewhat shabby pub located in an industrial area. The pub also includes a very strange tenant who lives in the basement, and ownership of the pub must include the guardianship of said tenant. 

The tenant, Iris learns, is something no longer human. When it’s restrained in a chair and given particular physical items, it has the ability to channel the dead for two minutes. Only two. Prior to Owen’s death, Neil (Jeremy Irvine) was coming around and paying Owen two thousand pounds a pop to speak with his deceased wife. Iris sees a way to dig herself out of her financial hole. All she’ll have to do is follow the rules around this creature, but as they always are, those rules are specific. She figures she’ll be fine, as long as she doesn’t make any mistakes. Iris has a lot to learn.

It’s common for filmmakers to create a short film, then expand upon the short as their first feature. Director Alberto Corredor took that route, and as a debut, he’s done solid work. That’s particularly the case with the atmosphere of the film and the production design of the pub. Corredor has created a world that’s gloomy and foreboding, and a pub that’s exactly the opposite of welcoming. For the most part, the overt horror genre elements are more restrained, which feels like a smart choice. When Corredor pumps the brakes, his film has a nice mixture of dread and sorrow. There are only a few jump scares and big creature moments, and when they happen, they don’t have the same power as the quieter and more emotional sequences.

I appreciated that the screenplay by Christina Pamies and Bryce McGuire clearly spells out the rules around the critter in the basement. According to the internal logic of the world, it all makes sense, and there are only a few moments where it feels like the script strains to work around or break the rules. Granted, there are some subplots concerning the rules that don’t amount to much. Those feel a little like producer meddling, yet it’s possible the filmmakers were up against a hard production deadline. The script also takes the time to show us how the characters feel and react to this peculiar scenario. There are moments where the script allows events to play out due to decisions made, rather than the characters being hemmed in by the plot. For the most part, the characterization is solid and when our protagonists behave in stupid ways, they are ways that make sense. Would a person not in massive financial straits consider becoming the caretaker of a fiendish thingie? No, but as someone who was in that situation, I’d certainly consider it. 

For this film to function, the actors need to sell their desperation and make it feel real. As Iris, Freya Allan effectively plays a woman who feels like she’s fully out of options. Over and over, she talks herself into increasingly bad situations, but while you might not agree with her reasoning, you can certainly see where she’s coming from. I liked Jeremy Irvine’s performance as Neil, and he slowly peels back the layers of who he is and what he’s trying to uncover. But my favorite performance is Ruby Barker as Katie. On the one hand, I loved that Katie is someone who loves her friend, tries to be as supportive as possible, and is one hundred percent correct that all of this will end extremely poorly. On the other hand, she’s the only person of color in this film. You think she makes it out alive?

Baghead isn’t perfect, but when it works, it works like gangbusters. It sets up a creepy and compelling scenario, then adds characters with relatable flaws. All in service of a simple question – how far would you go to assuage your grief and regret? Would you process it, heal, and move on? Or would you find yourself in a basement, begging for two minutes?

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.