TIFF 2011: TWIXT Review

     September 15, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt wants to take pot shots at every kind of horror story by working under the guise of being a bad horror movie.  Coppola mocks Edgar Allan Poe, Steven King, vampire stories, and 3D but his criticism is rarely playful.  Twixt wants to keep things silly and fun in the “real” half of the story but then wants act superior when it comes to the ethereal aspects of its tale.  The result is a film that’s always campy, somewhat lazy, and more than a little tiresome.

Twixt opens by taking a shot at Steven King by having Sheriff Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern) provide the horribly-written opening narration and introduce the strange small town of Swan Valley. The town dislikes outsiders and the goth kids who live by the lake because they’re weird and may engage in witchcraft or whatever else old people are afraid of.  Swan Valley also features a bizarre clock tower which has seven faces and each reads a separate time.  Into this strange village comes “3rd-rate-Steven-King” mystery novelist Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) who has come to sell his latest book, “Witch Hunters” even though he wasn’t invited and the town doesn’t even have a bookstore.  Setting up an impromptu signing at the local hardware store, Baltimore meets LaGrange and is pitched on co-writing a new book, entitled “The Vampire Executions”.  LaGrange’s pitch is based on a recently murdered girl who was killed with a gigantic stake (one of Coppola’s jabs at vampire stories) and the heroic sheriff who must stop the serial killer.

Hall doesn’t think it’s a terrible idea and uses it to try and get another advance from his publisher so that his wife won’t sell off his rare copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  Coping with his lack of success, writer’s block, and the recent death of his daughter, Hall plunges into bizarre dreams where he talks with Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Whishaw) and a mysterious girl named “V” (Elle Fanning).  Baltimore hopes he can uncover the secret behind a mass murder in the town’s past and use the tragedy as fodder for his novel and deliver a “bulletproof ending”.

It’s difficult to know what Coppola wants us to take seriously out of Twixt.  He must know that he’s getting stilted performances from some of his cast, that the dialogue is hackneyed, and that he’s exaggerating certain peculiarities of various horror sub-genres.  But how are we supposed to assume he’s using Edgar Allan Poe as a voice of guidance and wisdom when ten minutes earlier we’ve seen LaGrange show Baltimore a model of a vampire execution chair that has a Barbie strapped into the seat.  “An execution device created by vampires, for vampires…” muses Baltimore as he looks over the silly contraption.  So much effort is put into the dreamlike cinematography but then Coppola turns around and superimposes Poe’s face onto the moon and the mystique is shattered.

Twixt reminded me of Faust but funnier, shorter, and not completely incomprehensible.  Characters still talk in subtext, almost everything is reference, and the film revels in the abstract as if it was a good in and of itself.  Coppola also gets a far better visual style out of his film than Sokurov and while it’s nothing revolutionary (vivid red looks great when contrasted black and white) the cinematography in the dream-world is charming.

But the movie is still a mess as Coppola wants to be ironic, ethereal, contemplative, and campy.  You don’t superimpose a pair of 3D glasses on to your film as a heads-up to the audience to put on their 3D glasses, if you’re not trying to poke fun at 3D and particularly how 3D is used in horror films (unsurprisingly, it adds nothing to Twixt).  Coppola doesn’t want to take any horror seriously but he demands we respect half of his movie as if we’ll forget all the silliness that came before.  The film is drenched in pointless symbolism, blanket references, and weak satire and the tedious build only brings the audience to a simple, unrewarding emotional payoff.  Even if Coppola is criticizing bad, derivative horror by making a movie that’s bad, derivative horror, we still have to sit through a movie that’s bad, derivative horror with only the brief respite of Twixt acknowledging that it’s a comedy and nothing more.

Rating: C-

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my TIFF 2011 reviews so far:

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