Francis Ford Coppola, legendary director of The Godfather trilogy (1970, 1972, 1990), Apocalypse Now (1979), and Dracula (1992), has reportedly taken a step back from mainstream cinema and has stated that he is now only making personal films rather than pursuing box office hits. Indeed, his latest film Twixt is remarkably different from the director’s earlier work but fans of gothic horror should be delighted and entertained by his latest horror instalment.
Twixt offers a complex hybrid of genres and sub-genres with a combination of gothic horror, murder mystery, suspense thriller and emotional drama, not to mention being darkly comic. Horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is trying to promote his latest horror book “Witch Hunter”. His latest tour stop is a small mid-west American town Swann Valley, which is currently being traumatised by a serial killer that leaves an unusual calling card in his victims: a wooden stake. Naturally, Hall is intrigued by the crime and is persuaded by the town’s Sheriff, Bobby LeGrange (Bruce Dern), to write about Swann Valley’s murderous history. Hall soon finds himself caught between his nightmares and a warped reality, guided by Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin). He becomes intrigued by the death of Virginia (Elle Fanning) who seems to have returned as “V”, a gothic vampire. Hall is also faced with coming to terms with his own troubled past and must face up to his own loss whether he wants to or not.
Twixt has been unfairly dismissed as a disaster by a number of critics, many of whom negatively commented on the complexity of the film’s plot and its surrealistic elements. The film does have some serious flaws: it suffers from an incoherent plot at times, which is confusing and hard to follow due its complexity and it is often disorienting due to the surreal dream sequences. The film also suffers from a weak script and implausible dialogue and is rather predictable, especially Hall’s tragic backstory.
Yet Twixt is more than its flaws. The surrealist qualities are intriguing and evoke David Lynch at times. The hypnotic dream sequences are a delight to watch and make up a significant part of the running time with colour used sparingly but to great effect. Themes of loss and obsession are also effectively addressed and realised in the characterisation of Hall. Kilmer effectively captures the agony of the directionless author haunted by his traumatic past. Fanning does a good job of effectively bringing mystery to her character. Aged 13 at the time of shooting, it is hard to believe that she is still so young. Bruce Dern’s hilarious turn as the Sheriff is the most memorable and he seems to be having the most fun. Dern delivers his lines with ease, mocking Hall by asking him “How does it feel to be a bargain basement Stephen King?”
Twixt is very much a homage to American gothic horror encapsulated in Hall’s voyage into his dreams that are guided by Poe. Viewers unfamiliar with the works of Poe may be lost as a result of the attention given to the author yet this addition and references to the Romantic author may bring new attention to his work. Set design and costume are beautifully captured by the film’s cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. whose previous films include Youth Without Youth (2007) and Tetro (2009), both also self-funded independent projects directed by Coppola. The camera is used to voyeuristic effect; sweeping crane shots with the camera towering over Hall and the town help reinforce that both the town and the writer have a tormented past that hovers over them, ready to rain down upon them and create havoc at any moment.
The use of sound is haunting and the simplest of sounds, such as the chiming of the seven faced clock, sends shivers down the spine. Sound is effectively used in the dream sequences and helps immerse the viewer in the hauntingly nightmarish world Hall becomes trapped in. While these aspects of the film help to divert the viewer’s attention from the problems with script and plotting, Twixt could have easily been a stronger film with a re-write. Certain plot points desperately require explanation and will possibly leave some viewers baffled and scratching their heads.
Twixt is an intriguing film but not necessarily one for fans of Coppola’s classic films. It is certainly a very personal film, dealing with the loss of a child; a fate which Coppola has gone through himself with the death of his eldest son Gian-Carlo Coppola. Although a horror, Twixt does not resort to cheap tricks and gore to thrill its audience but leaves a lasting impression whether it is of awe or confusion. Beautifully crafted and shot, it is a shame that a weak script and confusing narrative lets the overall impression of the film down.