Review: Twixt

Once upon a time, Francis Ford Coppola made movies like “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now.” He also made “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” but that doesn’t eclipse his accomplishments.

But Francis Ford Coppola clearly has entered the “I’m going to do whatever I want, even if it makes no sense” phase in his career. Exhibit A: “Twixt,” a baffling little movie that twines together ghosts, vampire bikers, child murder, Edgar Allen Poe and a big messy knot of subplots that may or may not be real.

I once tried to summarize “Twixt” to an acquaintance, and ended up babbling incoherently about Poe, vampires, ghosts and dead children. But I’ll try to tackle it anyway: Second-string horror author Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is touring for his latest novel, and ends up in a small town that doesn’t even have a bookstore. That evening, he encounters a strange, ghostly young girl who calls herself “V” (Elle Fanning).

He soon finds that strange things are afoot in this town — time seems to be frozen (none of the clock faces move), there is a gang of bikers who may be vampires camped out on the lakeshore, and the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe visits him in his dreams to reveal half-forgotten secrets. And what does all this have to do with the recently-murdered girl lying in the police station?

It’s really hard to even pass judgement on “Twixt” — it would involve understanding what the director was trying to do… or thinking… or understanding ANYTHING. It feels like Coppola had four or five different ideas for stories (“Vampire bikers! A vampire/ghost orphan! Dream messages from Poe! A failing author with personal issues!”), and so he squashes all of them into one movie.

The result feels like a mad hybrid of Stephen King and David Lynch. The small-town setting, the supernatural threats and the eccentric characters feel somewhat like something King would put in a story… but the way it’s presented is wildly Lynchian, with giant lumps of misty symbolism and blurred borders between fantasy and reality. You could watch this movie a dozen times, and still not be sure what is happening.

For instance, one scene features Baltimore wandering into a blue-lit bar, where he listens to two people who speak in an affected, dreamlike way and occasionally sings “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.” After one of them attacks V, they babble some more about how the clocks do not work and time cannot be measured… and Baltimore just leaves. Utterly baffling… and no, it is never referred to again.

I suspect that Val Kilmer was just as baffled, because that’s effectively the performance he gives — total confusion. He does a decent job with Baltimore’s frustration and grief over the problems in his life, but most of the time he’s left staring around in confusion. Elle Fanning isn’t in much of the movie, but she does do a good job as a girl who may be a ghost, a vampire, a dream, or whatever.

But one thing that Coppola does not fail at is making the movie beautiful — it’s a misty, night-hued story that drifts over lakes, through ruined stone walls, through moonlight-dappled forests. Some of the greenscreen is a bit obvious, but it doesn’t distract from the hauntingly lovely, surreal visuals that fill most of the movie.

Francis Ford Coppola has become the elderly winemaking version of people who make amateur horror shorts and put them up on youtube. “Twixt” is utterly baffling and bizarre, but at least it’s a pretty kind of baffling/bizarre.

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