Like Tim Burton’s recent reworking of that cult afternoon television soap Dark Shadows, Twixt appears to exist purely for the amusement of its director. Unlike Burton’s folly, it hasn’t got Johnny Depp heading up a raft of big names that seems to guarantee a return at the box office these days.
It’s difficult to fathom just who this film is aimed at.
Coppola’s first horror film since Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, Twixt stars the increasingly corpulent Val Kilmer as the down-at-heel horror writer on a book signing tour. Hall Baltimore is obviously on the downward slide – a ‘low-rent Stephen King’. Nobody wants to buy his books. He’s broke, suffering from writer’s block and spends his time arguing with his wife (Kilmer’s real ex, Joanne Whalley) over Skype whilst drinking himself into oblivion.
Baltimore arrives in the small mid-western town of Swan Valley. A place that is, as Tom Waits gravelly intro informs us, ‘for those who want to be left alone’. The town has a multi-faced clock tower where each clock tells a different time. It was, long ago, the scene of a mass murder, and now a fresh corpse of a young girl lies in the local morgue with a stake through her heart. Could there be a connection with the local youths and their mysterious leader Flamingo who hang out by the lake, or is a serial killer at large? In the local hardware store-cum-bookshop, Baltimore meets the local sheriff, who wants to enlist the writer to collaborate on a book. He’s also keen to show off the latest addition to the town’s roll call of unnatural deaths. It’s nice to see Bruce Dern given some decent screen time for a change.
From that point on things get a little weird. Baltimore embarks on a series of nocturnal excursions and meets a young girl (Elle Fanning) who calls herself ‘V’ and who might be a member of Flamingo’s followers, or possibly a ghost – or vampire. Gradually Baltimore begins to discover more about the town’s macabre past, including the discovery that Edgar Allan Poe once stayed at a local hotel. Soon Baltimore is taking writing advice from the master himself (Ben Chaplin, showing The Raven’s John Cusack how Poe should be done), and his grip on reality starts to look a little shaky.
It is a bit of a mess, but a compelling one. You always sense that there is a steady hand on the tiller, even if that someone neither knows, nor really cares where they’re ultimately heading. The film frequently strays into the small town David Lynch territory of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, especially during the scenes involving Dern and his deputy. And one can’t help but be reminded of Hobb’s End, home of that Stephen King surrogate, Sutter Kane, in the Lovecraft-tinged In the Mouth of Madness from John Carpenter.
The cast are great, Kilmer giving a stand out performance. Perhaps Coppola cast the role because the character’s plight seems so similar to Kilmer’s own – a once lauded movie star, now fallen on hard times. There’s a particularly brilliant scene where Baltimore attempts to write the opening line to his new novel while getting increasingly drunk and, utilising the actor’s gift for mimicry, he starts quoting Brando’s lines from one of the director’s more celebrated films.
Of course, the film belongs solely to its director. The night time scenes in near monochrome with only certain things retaining their colour are reminiscent of the groundbreaking technique he used in Rumble Fish. But it’s not only his own back catalogue that Coppola has plundered here. The death of Baltimore’s child that compounds his downfall is very similar to the death of Coppola’s own son in a boating accident. Coppola may have his own good reasons for doing this, but there’s something unsettling about seeing such private wounds opened in this way. As the film progresses, it becomes clearer that Coppola sees himself in the Baltimore role.
Ignore the baggage the film brings with it and it appears to be the work of a promising fresh talent. For someone with Coppola’s legacy he seems to have come full circle. This isn’t obviously the work of the director of The Godfather or Apocalypse Now, let alone Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The film feels closer in spirit to his earliest work for Roger Corman’s production company in the 60s. The appearance of that Corman favourite, Poe, seems almost designed to confirm this.
The title, truncated from the archaic word ‘Betwixt’ means: ‘neither wholly one thing nor another’ which sums the film up rather nicely.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Joanne Whalley, Ben Chaplin
Running time: 88 minutes
US DVD Release date: 23 July 2013
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