NOTE: This review is based on the screening on Sunday, September 11th. Aware that the film may be remixed and interactive at other showings my experience may not reflect your own. To be clear, the interactive features were not in play during this screening.
Let’s clear the air and say the obvious: Francis Ford Coppola made The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation in less than a decade. The ‘80s had some gems like Rumble Fish, but the ‘90s, oy, those ‘90s. His 2000s, on the other hand, can certainly be best described as weird. Choosing to do modest, “underground” films, it seems that each new gesture was unpredictable at best, which brings us to Twixt. Twixt is not a blockbuster, but it is certainly a genre piece; a dream-inspired, Dan Deacon scored, Poe-themed vampire ghost murder story genre piece. It is a weird stand out even for the Coppola portfolio. Early footage and strange high-concept ambitions have had some folks worried that this gloomy gallop would be an awkward slouch. But let me tell you now, internet, it’s definitely nowhere near Apocalypse Now, it’s not even Rumble Fish, but Twixt, for all of its uneasy flaws, is incredibly fun to watch.
Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) isn’t happy with his writing career at the moment. Once biting at the heels of Stephen King, a creative losing streak following his daughter’s death has him stuck in a schlock-witchcraft circuit that is not inspiring readers or himself. Possible inspiration comes to him in the strangest of places, a tiny Californian town that is sleepy in size but full of oddities, like a kooky sheriff (a scenery chewing Bruce Dern) who builds bat houses, a clock tower with seven faces (none with the correct time) and a clan of goth teens on a lake led by a dark-glam biker known only as Flamingo (Alden Ehrenreich). But among all the strange sights, what’s got him inspired for a new story is the grisly murder of a young girl, a steak driven through her heart indicates whoever killed her was convinced she was of vampiric intent. The fixation is finalized when Baltimore begins to dream of a darker side of the town, where the girl, Virginia (Elle Fanning), can still communicate with him and even curiouser is that Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin) serves as his sullen guide.
It’s hard to recognize at first, because there are a lot of hurdles of absurdity to get over, but this tale is telling more about tale-tellers. The inclusion of Poe, his advice and warnings place this odd story as a frame on how to tell a story at all. The tribute to Poe is more than just a sudden fascination, it’s pragmatic, as Coppola’s homed in on the roots of his grim, personal storytelling method and not afraid of it digging into his own, literally alluding to the death of his son Gian-Carlo Coppola. There are constant clues to the murderer, one that basically gives it away, but by that point it no longer feels like story is about confirming who the perpetrator is. Journeying into this colour-bleached world of the dreams is a means of telling a story to entertain others.
If this meta-tale sounds a bit pretentious, any arching pretense is constantly defused by how whimsically carefree Coppola is treating the material. No matter how grisly the acts on screen are, either their dreamy depiction or the highly stylized moon-lit colour scheme, they maintain a charming wonder. All is comfortably pulpy, perhaps a respect to the career of the protagonist or just a kind excuse to be silly. The character pieces that fill this town range from the dopey deputy, the suspenders wearing young spunky twirp with glasses to the motorcycling, poetic rebel Flamingo, who looks like Diamond Rings with a skin condition. It maintains this 1995 point and click FMV PC game vibe, real sense of an adventure, opening doors, meeting strange faces and only solving the problems that keep the story alive.
Now, there may be another reason Twixt feels like a 1995 FMV PC game. Whether or not Twixt will see any distribution is debatable, if only because being “self-produced” has side-effects aside creative freedom. While some scenes, even 3D ones (which are signaled to the audience in the most delightful way) have adequate effects, others couldn’t hold a match to those from an Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode.
There is a short, wonderful scene where Baltimore idea jams drunk in an empty motel room which left the audience howling. It was a great moment to be in a packed theatre and a giggling tone-setter for the entire feature. Though others would suggest a Tom Waits narrated opening soliloquy was a stronger establishment. After the “bulletproof” ending comes and goes, you’ll briefly sort the meanings in your head and just where the shears of the “story” and “reality” blended. I’m also aware there are things I haven’t seen, some footage and cards probably held for alternative paths (the demonic clock tower and Flamingo were not explored despite certain hype) but I suppose those are journeys for other audiences to relay back to me. Dan Deacon’s electro-hoppy but whispering bloops sound like girly ghosts trapped in the computer and keep a footstep pulse as you and Hall Baltimore descend further into the dreams of Coppola. Coppola described Twixt’s muse as a nightmare he had in Istanbul, but this chaotic quest is certainly as magical to those awake.