I am doing the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Every day in October, I will watch a different horror film I have never seen before and write about it here on the blog.
At this point, hoping for one more masterpiece from Francis Ford Coppola is probably an exercise in futility. He seems to have completely shunned studio filmmaking and his films have increasingly become non-commercial even in the indie filmmaking world. His last two films, Youth Without Youth and Tetro, found him experimenting with narrative structure and image manipulation. Neither film is particularly memorable, but they do have their moments. And that seems to be the most an audience should hope for from a new Coppola film. Twixt, a strange pseudo-ghost/vampire movie, continues this trend.
Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is a down on his luck horror novelist (a character describes him as “the bargain basement Stephen King”) who stops for a book signing event in a small town. Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern) is the local sheriff who has a tale to tell. He wants to collaborate on a book with Hall about the sinister history of his town and the mystery of a Jane Doe he currently has in the morgue. Hall isn’t interested until he sees the body has a huge wooden stake jutting out of its chest. Sick of writing his series of witchcraft books and looking for a “bulletproof” idea that will satisfy his publisher (David Paymer), Hall agrees to work with Bobby on the book.
But things are more twisted than Hall can imagine. Through a series of dreams where he meets an adolescent girl named V (Elle Fanning), who may or may not be a ghost, and finds Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin, sporting an inappropriate accent for a southern gentleman) as a guide through the town’s sordid history of child murders, Hall becomes disoriented, unable to tell where his dreams stop and reality begins.
It’s fairly obvious that Coppola wants the plot and sequence of events in Twixt to be disorienting. In that regard, the film is a success. As a coherent mystery with horrific moments, it’s a complete mess. But I found my enjoyment increased as the film flew off the rails. The often lovely visuals (courtesy of cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.) and heightened performances show that none of the proceedings—as ghastly as some of the plot twists are—should be taken seriously. The only reason the film exists is to allow Coppola to experiment with atmosphere and occasionally send up the cheaper, badly produced DTV horror films that have flooded the market.
Actually, Kilmer’s nutty performance is another reason for the film to exist. Hulking about, looking every bit the bloated drunk he is playing, he seems to be having a blast as the self-deprecating Hall. By the time he starts doing a Brando imitation while mumbling to himself, it’s clear he realized Coppola was basically just screwing around and decided to join in on the fun.
This lack of self-seriousness helps patch over some rough spots involving a gang of twenty-something kids who live on the edge of town. Everyone is sure they’re Satan-worshippers and their over-the-top look and performances become too silly for even this film to handle. Thankfully, despite their apparent importance to helping the plot make sense, the scenes of Hall interacting with them are kept to a minimum.
It’s too bad that the third act loses the sense of playfulness present through the rest of the film. There is an unearned moment when Hall has to come to terms with the tragic death of his daughter (in a painfully personal touch from Coppola, she is killed in a boating accident in the same way as his son) that feels like it comes in out of left field. The wrap up of the central mystery is also quickly done and very unsatisfying. The forced plot machinations feel out of place and only highlight the slight nature of the film.
Twixt is not a good film. I don’t want to give the impression that buried underneath all the goofiness and visual flourishes there is a masterpiece. It’s a diverting bit of fluff from Coppola that aspires to be nothing more than it is. Maybe I’m being too lenient on the film, but what’s the point of getting upset with a gifted filmmaker when he just wants to have a little fun?
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