Movie Review – Twixt (2011)

In an early scene in 2011’s Twixt, the main character, Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) – a second-tier horror writer whose career and finances are on the decline – explains that he no longer wants to write what is expected of him by others. He wants to write something personal, something that speaks to and matters most to him. In many ways this is director Francis Ford Coppola talking to the audience, explaining the rationale for the rather bizarre film to which they are bearing witness. Coppola is a rightfully celebrated filmmaker, praised for the artistic masterworks he created in the 1970s, and he is no stranger to horror. He first cut his teeth directing the 1963 Roger Corman produced Dementia 13, and then in 1992 returned to the genre in the visually dense, operatic Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which functions effectively as a love letter to the vampire character’s portrayal in cinema since 1922’s Nosferatu. Horror fans were therefore justifiably excited when it was announced that Coppola was returning to the genre.

Twixt follows Baltimore as he stops at a small town on a flailing book tour and becomes inspired by a local murder mystery. In his sleep he is visited by a mysterious adolescent girl named V and is given a tour and literary input from the master of macabre himself, Edgar Allan Poe. Add to this vampires, child murder, religious zealotry, a clock tower where the Devil may reside, and a quirky sheriff who wants to be a horror writer. All of this and more make for an intriguing plot, but it unfortunately never comes together in a cohesive manner. Too many plot points are thrown into the mix and too few end up paying off.

Coppola had originally conceived of the project in a dream, and he wanted to perform live editing before live audiences like an orchestra conductor, adjusting the movie to the reactions of the viewers. This is all very ambitious and interesting, but it proved too unwieldy and eventually he had to settle on a final cut, one which is tonally uneven and ultimately unsatisfying. There is black humor throughout, but the handling of it is sometimes so awkward that instead of laughing, I felt uncomfortable. The performances are adequate, but nobody is turning in their best work or elevating the drab dialogue.

Looking back at his take on Dracula, it’s almost difficult to believe that the man who put poetry on celluloid in such a fluid, beautiful manner in that film created the Gothic scenery in Twixt. A veneer of artifice effects nearly every scene – what might have been surreal instead looks cheap. It’s not an aesthetically pleasing film despite its best efforts. The title refers to Baltimore’s state as being “betwixt” reality and the dream world, but neither realm is ever very convincing.

I really wanted to like this movie. As someone who admires Poe, a film that is very much an ode to that influential American author is one I want very much to succeed. Yet other than providing trivia for me to catch and a few allusions, the scenes with Poe don’t end up adding much to the plot. Will we ever get a great film deserving of that great author? I truly hope so, but this is not it.

Grade: D+