The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Twixt | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Twixt

A struggling writer teams up with a small town Sheriff to solve a local mystery involving a long missing girl.

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley

This year has definitely seen a changing of the guard in terms of cinematic reputations. Paul Schrader’s latest is going to DVD. Brian de Palma, who has suffered that fate before, couldn’t get a cinema release for 'Passion', despite having Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams starring. Now Coppola can add his name to the list with the long delayed DVD premiere of 'Twixt' in the UK. It seems only Spielberg and Scorsese remain impervious to change out of the original movie brats.
In truth, 'Twixt' was always going to be a difficult sell. The third in what could be loosely dubbed his student film trilogy, a back to basics more contemplative approach which has yielded 'Youth Without Youth' and 'Tetro', 'Twixt' is at once his most trivial and genre based of the three but also the most awkward and unwieldy. At times it’s difficult to know if you are watching a film, an art installation or the bridging scenes in a console game.
When Hall “the bargain basement Stephen King” Baltimore (Kilmer) arrives in a small Californian town to promote his latest horror novel to general indifference, his only fan is local Sheriff and creator of bat houses Bobby La Grange (Dern), who wants to collaborate with the author on a book that deals with an ongoing investigation involving a dead girl and a staking. Suffering from writer's block, and in need of a quick cash fix, he readily agrees. When asleep, he dreams of a hotel that Edgar Allen Poe (Chaplin) once stayed in and finds himself teaming up with the gothic author to solve the mystery of V (Fanning), an ancient mystery involving a long missing girl.
The story outline may make this sound like your everyday horror adaptation. This however is far stranger and also in parts hugely self indulgent and annoying. Dream narratives in the wrong hands are open to bloated nonsensical writing, full of sixth form psychology and of interest only to the dreamer. Coppola makes hard work for himself from the off by evoking 'Twin Peaks' in his small town full of kooks and sinister history. You realize how great artists like Lynch and Argento are at capturing the gossamer lightness of a nightmare and how the most innocent of objects can be imbued with the darkest malevolence. Here Coppola stomps all over the mood, unable to decide if this is black comedy or supernatural shenanigans. Instead we get hackneyed evocations of gothic teens or the visual stylings of 'Rumble Fish', which was fine in the eighties but now looks like a lazy video promo. You can tell that he is not taking this entirely seriously when 3D is introduced in two key scenes in which the screen literally puts on a pair of glasses that would make William Castle proud. I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of this as I only saw the film in its 2D version.
Coppola has some background in horror. His first film 'Dementia 13' was a proto slasher old dark house mystery and if the most terrifying thing about 'Dracula' was Keanu Reeves' accent it was still richly operatic and grand, using camera effects from the dawn of cinema in a sprightly inventive way. It does come as something of a shock then to see Coppola shoot digitally in such a pedestrian awkward way. Visually it looks like the early years of digital footage; the film it reminds me most of is Mamoru Oshii’s virtual reality gamer film 'Avalon' and that had an antiquated look ten years ago.
The film's trump card is some committed acting from its leads. Dern enlivens the film every time he appears, at once impish, malevolent and sleazily avuncular. Chaplin also does good work as Edgar Allen Poe. Restrained and melancholy, he perfectly embodies the fevered author. If Kilmer is less impressive, it’s mainly because you spend the first 20 minutes contemplating his now bloated features and eighties pony tail. Saying Kilmer has been his best in years is not exactly saying much, but, if not on 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' form, he does do good weary disillusionment, bringing a vigor to the arguments with his wife (played by his real life ex Joanne Whalley) that seem a little too natural. The blurring between reality and fiction would seem deliberate as Baltimore’s backstory mirrors that of a real life tragedy that befell a member of the Coppola family. Which does make this one of the strangest personal movies in living memory.
This will certainly not have a wide appeal but Coppola’s commitment to trying new things is to be commended. As much as his last three films have taken just as much opprobrium as applause, you do have to ask if you would like to see him try and fail, or go back to the dispiriting days of faceless rubbish like 'Jack' and 'The Rainmaker'? If Coppola returns to mainstream films then hopefully this experimental phase will find him re-energized and invigorated. It may be too late for another 'Apocalypse Now', but a 'Tucker' or 'One From The Heart' will still be warmly accepted.
A tough film to fully embrace then, not without its own perverse charms. It may not be quite as playful as it wants to be but is also not the unmitigated disaster its long delay may have lead you to believe.

Jason Abbey