Baphomet Mountain is the sort of independent picture that requires external context. Whether that means the movie is successful in its aims as a story is a question worth unpacking. Stars, co-directors and co-writers Austin Burnette Mitchell and Jeremy Reyes created their picture over the course of four years and several, almost entirely improvisational filming sessions. They claim 90% of the movie is improvised, which is believable given the nature of the final product. The story, the characters and the overall tone were found over the course of making the film. Its overriding energy, though, is that it wants to exist. It wants to be something. Anything.
Knowing the artists’ behind-the-scenes struggles makes Baphomet Mountain an interesting watch. Without knowing their story, however, it would feel much more perplexing, scattershot and difficult to finish. This review is written with the caveat that this film only really functions well if you know what the two men experienced to make it.
Reyes stars as Jesus Boy, an evangelical on the hunt for his lost brother. Mitchell plays Country Boy, a folk singer traveling the roads to find himself after a tragic romance. Jesus Boy believes in the overriding power of God, in that oppressive way preached by evangelical Christianity, while Country Boy doubts the whole theistic endeavor.
Due to its improvisational nature, Baphomet Mountain swings wildly in quality from scene to scene. Some of them sing, largely those with Reyes and Mitchell together. Others, particularly those dealing with the larger world around the two of them, veer into the roughly plotted story that is sort of perplexing, filled with occult oddities and strange characters who challenge Jesus Boy and Country Boy’s belief systems. These story scenes aren’t quite as engaging as the dynamic between the lead characters, a sociological odd couple bound by the simple pitch of a hitchhiker and his ride.
Although their performances are unplanned, the chemistry between the two is real and their commitment to the characters is impressive. Improv, especially in smaller pictures, tends to betray the drama of stories being told. Although there are some noticeable edits, the two leads generally riff off one another without breaking character or throwing off their partner. Each of them, particularly Mitchell, has great monologues and absolute weirdness on display.
The film’s use of ambient noise is also great, whether it be foliage or, in one scene, hushed conversations from the room next door between strangers discussing what seems to be a sexual transaction. The latter is particularly effective, as it accompanies a discussion about religiosity, sex, and love between the main characters. Perhaps it sounds corny when written out, but the juxtaposition works well.
Much of Baphomet Mountain is about religious panic, although it never feels like it amounts to a whole lot without a strong story at the center. The pleasures of the film come from watching Reyes and Mitchell work together and knowing the film is a result of four years of intense effort between the two of them. The fruits of their creative partnership are a little rough, but the fact that it found a final form, and features some really neat scenes and creative ideas, feels like an achievement. Their potential as filmmakers and creative partners is clearly on display here. As an example of what a dream and a little talent can do with few resources and a little fear of God, Baphomet Mountain is a neat experience.