Francis Ford Coppola: What happened?
There was a time, four decades ago, when you were one of the most celebrated filmmakers working in the post-modern era, a multiple Oscar winning auteur who created The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now. Along with Brian DePalma (now also artistically DOA), Steven Spielberg (still chugging along effortlessly), Martin Scorsese (same), and George Lucas (ummm…), you were seen as the aesthetic standard bearer for anyone who believed in the artistry of film.
Then, you got full of yourself, tried to start your own studio (Zoetrope) and then floundered through countless cinematic experiments both good (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish) and bad (One from the Heart, Michael Jackson’s Captain EO). By the time of 1996’s horrible Jack, you had been written off as a former heavyweight who now seemed happier making wine than decent films (though Bram Stoker’s Dracula and bits of The Godfather Part III suggested otherwise). Then, after 1997’s The Rainmaker, you didn’t make another movie for ten years, and when you finally came back, both Youth Without Youth and (especially) Tetro were seen as sly, subtle returns to form.
Now we have Twixt, which settles in and craps all over the quasi-good karma you just recaptured. It’s nothing more than a lark, but it’s also a lamentably self-indulgent mess masquerading as a bit of old school macabre. It’s crazy, contrived, more than a little illogical, and for the most part, one big insular in-joke. Few remember that Coppola got his start with Roger Corman, working on efforts like The Terror and his own Dementia 13 before parlaying his talent into an Oscar for scripting Patton. Going back to those old “haunting” grounds sounds like a terrific idea, that is, until you see the final result. This is the film equivalent of a late in life Marlon Brando performance — surreal, phoned in, and hostile toward its audience.
When we meet our disgruntled, semi-alcoholic writer Hall Baltimore (a clearly well-fed Val Kilmer), he is driving into a small town during a seemingly unsuccessful book tour. There he meets a nosy sheriff (Bruce Dern) who is dead-set on collaborating with the once-successful genre author. He even goes so far as to show our scribe a body he is holding in the morgue. Said corpse has a massive wooden stake through its heart.
Feeling like there might be something to this shocking bit of happenstance, Baltimore heads out to find an old abandoned hotel. There, he runs into the ghostly visages of the staff, several children who died on the premises, the insane pastor who killed them, and a little girl named V (Elle Fanning) who is somehow connected to it all. Even the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin) shows up to guide our hero.
So far, so what. Coppola finds nothing compelling in this meandering nonsense, though some in the critical community believe it is really an attempt to channel the grief he still feels over the 1986 death of his son Gian-Carlo, but even cast in that light, the movie fails. We are supposed to be frightened, not figuring out what element alludes to what portion of the filmmaker’s fractured memories. After all, his boy died nearly three decades ago, which makes such a requiem all the more puzzling. That being said, Kilmer creates a believable alter ego, a surprisingly eccentric loser whose lamentations are marked by quirks that would make the aforementioned Mr. Brando proud.
Still, we come to a horror film for shivers, not salvation, and nothing about Twixt delivers us from the director’s own inner demons. The dictionary definition of the title suggests something stuck between two competing concepts. In this case, the battle between interesting and irritating is won by the latter.