The condemned: Twixt (2011)
The plot: Bargain bin horror novelist Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) arrives for a book signing in a backwater town with a dark secret. He gets drawn into the investigation of a long-buried crime and a series of current murders alongside eccentric sheriff Bruce Dern, a spooky Elle Fanning—and the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe.
Over-the-top box copy: “Once the nightmares begin, the terror never ends.”
The descent: Reportedly inspired by the director’s dream, Twixt presents yet another disheartening signpost in Francis Ford Coppola’s retreat from greatness. While a director like David Lynch is able to transform the seemingly ordinary into the stuff of nightmares, Twixt sees the once-legendary Coppola turn scary dreams into a nondescript, prosaic episode of Tales From The Darkside. Filmed in 2011, largely around Coppola’s Napa compound, Twixt slunk onto DVD in July 2013 after failing to secure an American theatrical release. Supposedly the French liked it.
The theoretically heavenly talent: Val Kilmer, perhaps thinking the lead in a Coppola film would kick-start the comeback teased by his entertaining turn in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (some eight years ago now), lumbers through his role as alcoholic writer Hall Baltimore as if gradually realizing he hooked up with the wrong directing Coppola. Plodding through dream sequences, “colorful” one-on-ones with the overacting Dern, and lots and lots of exposition, Kilmer seems as rudderless as the film much of the time.
The execution: Twixt starts out promisingly enough, as Tom Waits’ gravelly voiceover sets the scene with the sort of grimy detail worthy of, well, a great Tom Waits story-song. Even here, the pedestrian nature of Coppola’s imagination seeps in, with such Waitsian details as a clock tower with seven faces, “all telling a different time” and the concept of Swan Valley is “a town of those who want to be left alone” clashing with shots of an empty but utterly nondescript main street and the fact that the townsfolk are scandalized by the kids across the lake, what with “the way they dressed and the music they played.” Visualizing the danger of said youngsters, the 72-year-old Coppola presents as evidence—a shot of two friendly looking goths smooching in front of a tent.
After driving into town with a trunkful of unsold copies of his latest witch novel and a Leaving Las Vegas-level hoard of booze, Baltimore retires to the local motel and ruminates on his dissipated writing promise and money troubles, all seemingly stemming from the death of his daughter years ago. Coppola, perhaps trying to nudge the placid Baltimore out of this lethargy, casts Kilmer’s former spouse, Joanne Whalley, for two scenes as Hall Baltimore’s hectoring wife. Updating the cinematic cliché, Whalley Skypes in her role, here badgering the drunken Baltimore to “grow up” while he snaps back with an uncomfortably meta-insult.
Coppola’s infatuation with new technology has long been a motif in his career (see his use of the fabled “Silver Fish” in One From The Heart), and of late, it’s computer imagery that’s his go-to dramatic effect. In this dream sequence (or is it!?) we see the Coppola template in full—shoot day-for-night, color-correct everything into the silver-blue, and digitally color in one element of the frame. It’d be striking if it weren’t so commonplace (and if he hadn’t been employing it since as far back as Rumble Fish), and if it weren’t in service of the squarest David Lynch sequence David Lynch never shot, with Coppola pal Don Novello ranting about daylight saving time and Hitler; an acoustic version of “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”; some awkward, lurching dancing; and the suds on Kilmer’s beer changing between shots.
And here’s Twixt in a nutshell: After being shown the town’s big secret—a priest once killed a bunch o’ kids—by a mysterious Elle Fanning as V (meaning she’s in color while the rest of the shot is black and white), Baltimore states, with convincing blankness, “My God I’m lost,” before chasing the spectral V over a rope bridge where she, fading away suddenly in the water below, delivers a ghostly “Help… meeee,” which knocks Baltimore off balance into the helpful arms of, as he exclaims breathlessly, “Edgar Poe!” It’s concentrated cheesiness and loopiness worthy of a Scooby-Doo episode, culminating in the “it was all a dream… or was it?!” ending.
Discovering he can essentially Inception himself right back to Poe’s side whenever he falls asleep, Baltimore keeps popping back in for more plot anytime he gets stuck in the true crime story he’s supposed to be writing alongside Bruce Dern’s creepy, hammy Sheriff LaGrange (who is also investigating the murder of a young girl with a stake through her heart). Here’s “Edgar Poe” dispensing some sound writing advice and a lot of exposition concerning Swan Valley’s deep, dark secret (which we already know), and those “vermin” across the lake, led by a mysterious figure known only as “Flamingo,” and who looks about as threatening as third-season A.J. Soprano dressed up for Halloween.
With Edgar’s help, Baltimore finally discovers that both the priest in the past and LaGrange in the present have some serious issues with women, and that both decided some stabbin’ was in order to put a stop to their filthy (and pungently described) womanly ways. Here’s LaGrange’s thesis statement:
And the minister’s:
After Poe leads Baltimore on yet one more unnecessary dream/flashback/whatever, he forces Baltimore to reveal his own deep, dark secret about his daughter’s death—which turns out to be a big letdown, frankly. (Baltimore was drunk and didn’t go on a boat ride with his daughter, who was decapitated by a towrope.) After that, there’s just one clichéd body reveal (Sheriff LaGrange’s killed his slothful deputy and himself—out of guilt, I guess?), one more dream sequence (or is it?!?), and Hall Baltimore’s got another mediocre horror novel under his ample belt.
The end—or is it?!? No, it totally is.
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: Unlikely to feature much in Francis Ford Coppola’s inevitable Lifetime Oscar montage, Twixt is doomed to either disappoint unwary horror fans or bum out Coppola completists. Should Kilmer’s comeback ever actually happen, fans may look back at the following scene with slack-jawed awe as he, coping with writer’s block the in the way of no writers since Snoopy, endlessly obsesses over the first line “The night was…” until he begins to free associate with, in turn: his Brando impression, his James Mason impression, “a black basketball player,” and “a gay basketball player from the ’60s”(?) in exactly the sort of indulgent atmosphere-breaker with which directors used to indulge Robin Williams. Also, watch the ice cubes in Kilmer’s drink switch from plastic prop ice to actual ice and back.
Damnable commentary track or special features? No commentary, but Coppola’s granddaughter Gia provides a 40-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that functions more as a Coppola family home movie. There’s a lot of time spent on the importance of a good lunch, Francis sings, cuddles an infant grandchild, and leads the crew in a ritual chant of something that sounds like “Wubba!,” and Kilmer seems much more charismatic goofing around than he does in the film proper. He also really likes to do “black guy” imitations. Oh, and Gia’s captions continually refer to the director as “my grandpa.” Coppola himself seems as engaged and energetic as ever, sadly in service of a truly banal enterprise.