Francis Ford Coppola’s entry in the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival, “Twixt” is one of the prettiest, most visually stylish and frustratingly incomprehensible – or perhaps more correctly, self indulgent – films the festival has to offer.
It’s far more than a poor man’s reboot of a vampire flick, and boasts a number of solid performances. Yet Twixt fails on so many fronts that it manages to waste a rich, plentiful collection of truly great ideas and moments.
Should you see it? Let me help you decide.
Twixt begins with a creepy-comic introduction (narrated by Tom Waits) of the haunted Northern California town in which the story unspools; it’s a classic country setting that needs little help being spooky but sets up the film’s beginning nicely.
Fictional Swan Valley is the home to a nutty sheriff that makes bird houses and bat houses alike, a clock tower avec belfry that has seven clock faces inexplicably set to different times, well-costumed goth kids living in a semi-upscale Burning Man style camp by the lake (“those rotten kids”) and hints of supernatural malfeasance behind the scenes.
In an effort to convince Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), a washed-up alcoholic horror novelist who rolls into town on a half-assed book tour to co-author a horror book about vampires and serial killings, the sheriff talks Baltimore into visiting the town morgue to see a dead body.
Baltimore discovers that Edgar Allen Poe once stayed in Swan Valley at a now dilapidated inn, and decides to stay for the night. Before he gets drunk, we’re force-fed Baltimore’s conflicts via a Skype argument with his compassionless wife over money and Baltimore’s inability to produce work he cares about after the accidental death of his daughter.
That night, Hall dreams he meets a young teenage girl who is obviously dead – though not to Baltimore – and walks with her to the inn where Poe stayed, which is now open for business and run by a clearly insane couple. Baltimore is told that twelve children were murdered on the premises and their bodies are under the house; the thirteenth one got away, and we find out it’s the girl he met earlier.
Baltimore is led by the ghost-girl to a bridge where she pleads with him to save her; then is met by the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe, who spends the rest of the film explaining to Baltimore how to write his next book over the course of a messy merging of days and nights, beautiful spooky dream sequences, deliberate confusion of reality with fiction, and not a single character we give a shit about.
Except maybe Kilmer’s Hall Baltimore, if only for Kilmer’s excellent deliveries – the best of which I found out after the film in Q&A with the actors, were actually Val Kilmer ad-libbing.
I really enjoyed the film – until I thought about it afterward. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like Coppola has finally fallen completely out of touch with having a relationship with his audience.
The overall moral mechanisms at play in Twixt are a man’s relationship with his guilt about an idealized, angelic little girl and a fairly enormous amount of self-congratulatory commentary about the writer’s relationship to his craft.
It’s a pretentious and oversimplified description of what genre writing is, and what genre writers are like, and lives far from the actual process of novel writing – while claiming to be a multilayered, philosophical in-joke about all of these things.
At the same time, there are no fully-formed female characters in the entire film. We get an old bitchy and money-focused wife, a creepy old lady, the “sluts” by the lake (the goth girls), and several steaming piles of little girls as innocent victims. These portrayals don’t help the story along in any way, and only serve to make the stereotypes-as-plot-devices even more egregious. The tropes make the unfinished plot points scattered throughout the film even more glaring, impossible to ignore.
The best way I can describe Twixt’s narrative arc and plotline editing is to say it’s like watching someone park and re-park cars in a parking lot for about an hour and a half, with nearly half the cars gradually being forgotten about and abandoned. What’s weird is how sadly predictable the whole film is in hindsight.
Twixt is beautiful, utterly goth-gorgeous to look at. It calls to mind films like Tales From The Gimli Hospital, and though the costumes make no period sense in the sort-of historical dream sequences, the goth couture is easy on the eyes.
Still, it’s pretty ridiculous seeing the goth kids by the lake – it looks like a fancy night at DNA Lounge with fire-spinners – it’s a faux Wicker Man trope. That they are also vampires is all so very Lost Boys.
The hotel in the woods is a clone of The Black Lodge from Twin Peaks, complete with red curtains to suggest “crossing over.” There is a church/bell tower scene that I hope was meant to be a Vertigo tribute. And if you’ve ever read the novel “Nevermore” by William Hjortsberg, you’ll be as pained as I was to see the same ghost of Poe, the use of “Nevermore” and its Poe-gives-story-guidance-subplot as a key moving piece in Twixt. None of this feels like a send-up.
Annoyingly, we never find out why Tom Waits narrated the opening sequence, who that character was supposed to be, not does Waits have anything else to do with the film – I found out Waits was added in as an afterthought.
Perhaps if you view Twixt as a bespoke collection of afterthoughts, you won’t be disappointed.