TIFF ’11 Review: Oh The Horror — Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Twixt’ Is A Low-Rent Nightmare

TIFF '11 Review: Oh The Horror -- Francis Ford Coppola's 'Twixt' Is A Low-Rent Nightmare

Francis Ford Coppola has played quite a few roles in his five-decade-long career. He started as a low-budget filmmaker in skin flicks and Roger Corman films before becoming an icon with a hugely impressive run of films that started with “The Godfather” and, arguably, ended with “Apocalypse Now.” The director struggled throughout the ’80s and ’90s, first attempting to bankroll his expensive projects through his American Zoetrope label, then as a director for hire in Hollywood after a run of flops nearly bankrupted him. But instead of continuing to struggle within the studio system he instead opted to go independent again.

Inspired by his daughter Sofia‘s more personal films and financed by his vineyards, Coppola reemerged in the past half decade with a run of idiosyncratic films that, for better or worse, were completely uncompromising to the director’s vision. His newest film, “Twixt,” marks yet another experiment for the director. At Comic-Con the filmmaker made waves with his plans to remix the film live at screenings around the country. Unfortunately, what wasn’t discussed as much was the footage itself, which looked worrisome.

The film stars Val Kilmer as Hall Baltimore, a hack horror writer who arrives in a small town to promote his latest witch-themed novel. While there he meets town sheriff Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern) who also sells bat houses (“very different from bird houses,” LaGrange intones), and is also an aspiring horror novelist. He has an idea for a book called “The Vampire Executioners,” which would revolve around some macabre elements in the town’s own history. Initially Baltimore isn’t interested until he has a vivid dream where he meets V. (Elle Fanning), a goth spectre who guides him to an old hotel where Edgar Allen Poe once stayed.

Baltimore is inspired by his dreams and realizes they could be the key to his next novel. During his dreams he also meets Poe (Ben Chaplin) himself, who gives him some writerly advice, and the misunderstood leader of a gang of goth kids called Flaminco (“Tetro“‘s Alden Ehrenreich). According to LaGrange, the gang is “evil” but are really just a bunch of goth kids partying down by the river. Baltimore decides to take LaGrange up on his offer to write the novel so that he can get money for his nagging wife (Joanne Whalley) and satisfy his scrupulous publisher (David Paymer). Dreams and reality start to blend together as Baltimore tries to figure out an ending to his novel.

Now this may not sound like the sort of personal film that Coppola set out to make, but the veteran director says the film was inspired by an alcohol-induced dream he had in Istanbul; the only problem being that he woke up before the ending and making the film was a way to help figure it out. But perhaps the most personal thing about the film is that Baltimore is still dealing with the grief from his daughter’s death during a boating accident — many will know that Coppola’s own son Gian-Carlo passed away under similar circumstances in 1986.

While those looking for a few midnight movie scares will find themselves very disappointed, the film is funny, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Kilmer has a lot of fun with the role, and a scene where he struggles to start his novel is particularly amusing. Dern also seems to relish a chance to chew the scenery. In one bit of intentional humor his license plate reads “guano,” which means batshit, certainly a good way to describe the film.

The film is the third collaboration with DoP Mihai Malaimare who composed beautiful images for both “Tetro” and “Youth Without Youth,” but possibly things are a little more low rent here. Coppola stated that his preference now is to keep the camera still because he finds the movement to be distracting, so by design the look has a kind of homemade quality. There are a few striking shots and the muted color palette during the dream sequences can work nicely, but some of the scenes look like they belong in a DTV film. The staging is at times awkward and many of the supporting actors laughably amateur.

As much as the budget appears to have been a constraint on the effects of the film, it shouldn’t have affected the acting or coherency of the picture. The legendary director can certainly be admired for following his passions (and doing something his buddy George Lucas has been saying for decades he would do), but that doesn’t mean things are always going to pan out. One element that should be singled out for praise is the score by composer Osvaldo Golijov and electronica artist Dan Deacon, which is at times atmospheric and even danceable.

The film is ostensibly a mystery about some murders in the town but really seems to be about Coppola having fun playing inside his subconscious. Whether or not fans of the director want to take a peek inside his psyche will be something yet to be determined. David Lynch‘s “Inland Empire” is another example of what happens when a director has complete freedom to explore their dreams and, like that experiment, this will likely be very divisive among fans and ignored by mainstream audiences. Personally, we’re not sure if there is any way the film can be remixed or edited into something worthwhile, iPad or no, and for us, this is one dream he probably should have forgotten. [D+]

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