'Twixt'

Courtesy of American Zoetrope

Francis Ford Coppola puts his career in reverse with a mashup of ghosts and vampires.

In a perfect world, Francis Ford Coppola would have made his films more or less in reverse order. The insubstantial films he's making now should be the tentative films of a student struggling to find his voice and vision, while The Conversation, One From the Heart, Apocalypse Now and the first two Godfather movies would be the culmination of his mastery of cinema. Sadly, this is not the case. While his previous film, Tetro, showed signs of recovery from his slump of many years, he now unveils Twixt, easily his silliest work.

Ghosts play a major role in the film, the idea of which, the writer-director has said, came to him partially in a dream. In its own dream sequences, the film is decked out in Gothic imagery with flashes of color within an otherwise monochromatic palette, with spectral figures drifting in and out of the mind of its protagonist. They give the director and his cinematographer, Mihai Malaimare Jr., free rein to throw just about anything Gothic on the screen, but they produce only tepid and tired imagery. Raising gimmickry to a new (lower?) level, two sequences in the movie even demand that the audience don 3D glasses.

Val Kilmer's Hall Baltimore is introduced in a gravelly narration by Tom Waits as a third-rate author of witchcraft fiction on a cheapo book tour. He comes to the isolated town of Swan Valley (the kind of place Rod Serling once specialized in), where the many clocks in its clock tower give different times, and a curse, provoked by a mass killing many years ago, hangs over everyone. Meanwhile, if the town's batty sheriff (Bruce Dern) is to be believed, a serial killer is still at work, and he has a body in the morgue to prove it.

As Hall falls asleep at night, he is visited by the ghost of a murdered girl (Elle Fanning), who obliquely describes what transpired in an old, burnt hotel. Then Hall runs into the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin), who adds more details, though they seem more like snippets of Poe's poems and stories than the town's curious history. Oh yes, and there's talk of vampires too -- but the movie never seems to make up its mind if these are vampires or ghosts.

There is one truly strange element in Hall's past: A boating accident killed his young daughter, a tragedy for which the writer blames himself. Coppola himself lost a son in a boating accident in 1986, so you don't know what this autobiographical element is doing in the movie and how to react to it. Is it meant to bestow a note of seriousness to an otherwise frivolous movie? No, because this element is used as a cheap plot gimmick for the novelist to find a satisfactory ending to his new book, an ending his publisher (David Paymer) demands be "bulletproof."

Of course, the ending isn't. It's just a mishmash of absurd horror tropes with a gush of blood and a vampire that may, in another autobiographical element, harken back to Coppola's days making movies for Roger Corman.

The pity is that the film's narrator has got it all to right: His writer's story is indeed third-rate.

Cast Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Ben Chaplin
Writer-producer-director Francis Ford Coppola

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