TIFF Review: Twixt

Hall Baltimore receives story editing from Edgar Allan Poe.

I have a theory about auteurs and genre films. I think that while many of the greatest films are deeply personal artistic statements (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons), movies by the same directors that must satisfy genre expectations are often the better and occasionally more innovative works (The Lady From Shanghai, Touch of Evil).

Francis Ford Coppola has managed to weave personal elements into the grandest of films, providing “perfume” for The Godfather as Talia Shire once sagely noted. In Twixt (a story that came to him as an alcohol-induced dream in Istanbul, interrupted by the call to prayer), Coppola manages to place the most distressing of autobiographical elements into one of the most baroque genres, Gothic horror.

From the gravel-on-sandpaper opening narration by Tom Waits, to the seven-faced clock tower, to the goth kids across the lake and their Bacchanalian revelry, and the macabre events that unfolded in the boarded up hotel, menace lurks in every corner of Swann Valley and Coppola has great fun painting the town either in bright Norman Rockwell sunshine or the indigo of a full moon.

At first, the film slides effortlessly into the mind of Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) and captures the fluid yet absurd logic of his dreams that I found myself mentally rubbing my hands together, ready to watch a master play with a grotesque little toy.

The film bogs down toward the middle (the product of Coppola trying to find the resolution to his dream mystery, which becomes Baltimore’s quest as well); plot machinations are not well-suited to the creation of mood, and only when Twixt returns to the creation of foreboding does it get back to the job at hand, i.e. scaring the collective poop out of the audience. For the most part, he succeeds (never mind the 3D, a hammy device that Coppola uses sparingly and adds to the Corman-esque feel of the endeavor, more for it’s simple inclusion than riveting effect).

What sticks with me most are two creepy bits of the artist seeping into the art. First, Kilmer has contact with his wife via laptop, played by his real-life ex-wife Joanne Whalley (the laptop also allows Kilmer, as the struggling writer Baltimore, to pull out his unnerving impersonation of Marlon Brando, in essence quoting Coppola’s Apocalypse Now).

The real impact comes from the story arrives in the form of the tragic death of Baltimore’s daughter, an incident that haunts him for obvious reasons. She suffers the same fate as Coppola’s son Gio, who died in a speedboat accident involving a tow line that decapitated the poor young man. Kilmer’s display of a father’s guilt is so raw and powerful that, in less sure hands, would have derailed what is an otherwise Poe-inspired popcorn film. Coppola knows better and uses it to bring that personal gravitas to a horror flick.

The Q&A after was quite good, with Kilmer in attendance and Coppola ever generous and direct. His warmth of spirit and love of cinema are almost enough to make me forgive him for Jack.

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