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D: Francis Ford Coppola / 88m

Cast: Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, David Paymer, Anthony Fusco, Alden Ehrenreich, Bruce A. Miroglio

Several years ago, Francis Ford Coppola announced he would be making only personal films, and since then we’ve had Youth Without Youth (2007), Tetro (2009), and now Twixt, ostensibly a horror movie but one that veers off down several different paths before its conclusion.

Hall Baltimore (Kilmer) is a moderately successful writer of witchcraft-themed horror novels.  He’s also in a bit of a creative slump.  While on a book tour, he finds himself in the small town of Swann Valley. He meets Sheriff Bobby LeGrange (Dern) who tells him about a mystery that involves a dead girl and a group of teens camped out across the lake. The girl is recently deceased, “obviously the victim of a serial killer”, according to LaGrange, and still in the sheriff’s office-cum-morgue with a stake through her heart. That night, Baltimore falls asleep and dreams of walking through town and out into the surrounding woods. There he meets V (Fanning), a young girl who looks drained of blood. They go to the Old Chickering Hotel where Baltimore learns that the bodies of twelve children are buried under the floor. This adds to the mystery, and when Baltimore wakes up he realises the answers to both his creative slump and the murder of the dead girl are to be found in his dreams.

To give a fuller description of the plot would take a while as Coppola, serving as writer, producer and director, piles layer upon layer of story onto the already overloaded plotting.  There’s several appearances by Edgar Allan Poe (Chaplin) who helps Baltimore in his dreams but also provides some literary allusions to the main plot. There’s a sub-plot involving a seven-sided clock tower where each clock face tells a different time. The twelve children were the charge of Pastor Allan Floyd (Fusco); there’s a protracted sequence involving a Jim Jones-style massacre. LaGrange acts strangely throughout, at one point knocking Baltimore unconscious out of anger (but also as a handy device for getting him to the next dream sequence). Baltimore is also mourning the death of his teenage daughter, while fending off the financial needs of his wife Denise (Whalley). The teens across the river, led by Beaudelaire-quoting Flamingo (Ehrenreich), provide temporary relief from the increasing pretentiousness of all the other proceedings. Oh, and there’s a scene involving a Ouija board, and Baltimore fighting writer’s block by impersonating Marlon Brando (with a near-quote from Apocalypse Now) and James Mason amongst others, and an ending so abrupt you might wonder if you’ve nodded off and missed a few minutes.

Twixt - scene

From all this you could be forgiven for thinking that Twixt is a bit of a mess, and largely it is. Coppola has applied a kind of kitchen sink approach to the movie, and it would be a dedicated viewer – one prepared to watch it several times in fact – who could find a strict, coherent storyline that runs through the movie, and who could adequately explain the various diversions that Coppola includes. However, it’s unclear if Coppola himself knows exactly what’s going on, or why, and if he doesn’t, then the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

Visually, though, the movie is often stunning to look at, the initial dream sequences – at the Old Chickering hotel, Baltimore’s chat with Poe in the same location – all have a weird, surreal quality that suits the action that’s unfolding. The characters speak with a slight hollowness, and the colour scheme, all grey, metallic hues, looks wonderfully unsettling. This is where Twixt works best, in the dreamworld that Baltimore inhabits as often as he can. Coppola pulls out all the stops in these sequences, imbuing them with a sense of predatory menace that elevates them from perfunctory scenes of exposition to something more disquieting. Alas, the scenes in the real world lack any kind of sense or coherence, and as a result, bog down the movie unnecessarily.

The cast do their best under the circumstances, Kilmer injecting some humour when he can at the absurdity of LaGrange’s eccentricities, but otherwise going with the flow and committing to the script’s vagaries. Dern adds another oddball character to his repertoire, while Fanning plays the girl who may or may not have gotten away from the pastor (it’s never made clear) with an appropriate detachment. Chaplin copes well with some really dense, literary dialogue, and rest of the supporting cast do the best they can as well, particularly Miroglio as Deputy Arbus.

Ultimately, the best that can be said about Twixt is that it’s no better or worse than a lot of other horror movies made in the last five years, but definitely a step up visually.  Coppola still knows how to construct a scene and have it play out – even if the internal logic is skewed – and he still has the confidence borne out of his many years as a director.  He may not have made the best decision in working from his own script, and if truth be told, this may not be the best version of that script (some of the cast have apparently seen an earlier, different version), but despite the absurdities and the incoherent plot, Twixt still has enough going for it to make it worth watching, even if it’s just to say you have.

Rating: 6/10 – Coppola delivers what appears to be a train wreck of a movie, but on closer inspection, there’s still a few carriages on the track to rescue things; worth seeing for its hallucinogenic visuals and Kilmer back on form after too many low-budget thrillers.