By Clarisse Tenreiro
After dedicating all my attention to the big screen that had been projecting all kinds of flickering lights and sounds into my brain, and finally taking that satisfying gulp of air one feels allowed to take once the credits roll, I felt like the past hour and a half couldn’t have been better spent than sitting in that red seat feeding off of Francis Ford Coppola’s imagination. Since the time of its release, “Twixt” has been one of my most enjoyable screenings, although I still haven’t completely figured out why.
It surely stands far from the classic masterpieces like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now that have made him one of the top American filmmakers from the Movie Brats generation. However, not in the sense that would make it a lesser film – it’s simply different. In its low-budget and experimental nature, it actually feels closer to the director’s initial relationship to cinema, seeing that his debut in the industry includes various horror shorts and the horror-thriller Dementia 13. In relation to the film’s release, Coppola stated: “At this point in my life, I think of any film I undertake as having three requirements: must be an original story, must have some personal element, and must be self-financed”. Although no other feature film has been in production since Twixt surely adheres to the requirements set.
This film, plunged into a setting of gothic romance, invites you into the mid-western town of Swan Valley, introduced as “a town of those who want to be left alone”. In it, we meet Hall Baltimore (played by Val Kilmer), a writer in decline whose book signing in the town’s hardware store lead him to the encounter of Sheriff Bobby LaGrange. This strange character informs him of the town’s unsolved murder of a young girl and suggests that they use this mystery to write a book together. While sleeping, Hall dreams of a ghost named V (Elle Fanning) who induces him further into the grotesque story that lays underneath the town’s secrets. This convinces him to go look for the truth and sparks the start of an obscure hunt between the real world, in which writer’s block disables him to go forth, and the dream world, where Edgar Allan Poe serves as a guiding figure for the completion of the story.
Coppola believes that “the smaller the budget, the bigger the ideas can be”, and that is perhaps what attracted me in this film: it’s freedom to be whatever it wants it to be. With a budget of around 7 million dollars, Twixt took what it could get and embraced its possibilities into becoming the peculiar cinematic experiment that its director set it out to be. It might seem incoherent and a bit all over the place. How does the comedic aspect of the failed writer who tells his wife “People always ask me ‘How do you know so much about witches?’ and I tell them ‘because I married one’” fit within the veil of horror and a thrilling mystery that covers the unfolding of the story? Well, it just does. Intersecting different genres is what makes things interesting in the end.
While one can feel the play between the different styles of language, from the cheeky interactions between the characters in Swan Valley to the poetic introspections given by Poe in the protagonist’s dreams, the same is found in the visual representation of these two worlds. When shifting from the real world to the dream sequences, the screen sucks out all the colour of the originally brown-toned contrasted image to reveal an unsaturated world of blacks and whites, leaving space for only a few hints of vivid colour, like the red blood dripping off a victim’s forehead. This beautifully orchestrated cinematography brings life to the atmosphere of the film, which in the end, is what seems to give it its primal identity.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I consider it a film to be put on a pedestal. Far from that – its wacky and absurd nature hinders it to be taken seriously and while the story unfolds in the right tempo, it seems to never really reach the ending one might have hoped for. Additionally, its fragmented shift between the dream and the reality of the protagonist seems inconsistent, at times, and leaves the viewer wondering what he/she should take from it. The flaws exist – sticking to the words of the various bad reviews the film received upon its release. However, I wouldn’t take it too far either. While it holds a 4.8 rating on IMDB, it was placed as the third best film of the year by the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema. Clearly, it has gathered very different opinions, which should show that it’s a film to take a chance on. As for me, I stand my ground in saying that if approaching it with this in mind, one can enjoy it greatly by diving into it head first, as I did the first time and the times after that.
In the end, what came out of a master’s dream (as the idea for the film literally came to Coppola in a dream, while in Istanbul) is a film that lives in its own universe. While going against the formula and slightly losing its path on the way, its strange mood and atmosphere offer a world of its own, where the dark, misty landscape and Fanning’s chilling energy seem to have been taken straight out of Poe’s literature of the fantastic. Coppola had the freedom to paint this picture as he pleased and so he did – and as far as I’m concerned, the result grabbed me by the shoulder and only let me go once the lights came on and people started getting up from their seats.
Clarisse is a Portuguese and German film enthusiast currently living in the Netherlands.
Fascinated by the art of cinema from an early age on, she undertook Filmmaking Studies
in Amsterdam in order to experience how the magic of the moving picture comes about in
practice. Having worked on several minor projects such as music videos, short films and
impression videos, she has also written for The Cinemaholic and undertaken a research
on auteur cinema for her Bachelor Thesis, where her interest in film criticism and history
was put to work. Psychological thrillers and biographical dramas are among her favourite
genres of the big screen.