Twixt is another Francis Ford Coppola sketchbook masquerading as a movie. Its hero is Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), a pudgy, agreeably shambling alcoholic who makes his living as a “bargain-basement Stephen King,” to borrow another character’s parlance. In the opening of the film, Hall pulls into a small town to peddle a few copies of the newest novel in his vaguely successful witch-hunter franchise. The town appears to have a population of roughly five, and the hardware store doubles as the bookstore, but Hall still settles in for a few days only to be roped into investigating the long-standing mystery surrounding the deaths of several girls. Hell, why not: It’s an easy way to please the town’s off-putting sheriff, Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern), who wants a co-writing credit on the volume the crime may inspire, and Hall certainly needs a new idea that might potentially bring in more money to keep his barely functioning marriage afloat anyway. With the aid of much whiskey and a variety pack of sleeping pills, Hall soon begins to have elaborate dreams that put him into contact with some of the town’s lingering spirits, most prominently a tortured young girl, V (Elle Fanning), who fancies herself an old-school gothic vampire, as well as, no kidding, Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin), who’s eager to help a fellow writer and dipsomaniac.
The film isn’t quite as scattershot as it probably sounds, as it’s clear early on that the small-town-murder nonsense is mostly a projection of the hero’s despair. Hall’s grieving over the death of his daughter, who died in a fashion that’s jarringly intended to mirror the real death of Coppola’s son, Gian-Carlo, and the fading writer’s drunken reveries are occasionally interrupted by his wife, who’s played, in another act of conscious mirroring, by Kilmer’s ex-wife, Joanne Whalley. It’s obvious that Hall is escaping into the realm of his work to either process his pain or disappear from the real world entirely, and Coppola has incorporated these authentic autobiographical parallels into the narrative, one assumes, so that audience members in the know will be encouraged to ponder over Twixt as a work of ambiguous meta therapy.
There are a few beautiful sequences, particularly the first scene between Hall and V as they stroll underneath the moonlight, but the film is mostly a folly that’s stuck between honoring the conventions of a genre potboiler and treading new ground as a more personal exploration of grief. Coppola has always been a chameleonic stylist, and he conjures up a synthetically lurid atmosphere here that’s intended—if one is to be charitable—to deliberately call attention to the desperation of Hall’s urges to escape his life, but the aesthetic soon smothers Twixt in the tradition of at least a dozen other previous Coppola films. Twixt touches on a variety of ideas without ever establishing a consistent tone or sense of reality; it’s less a film than a collection of flimsy vignettes performed against sets that appear to have been stolen from a yard sale on the border separating The Twilight Zone from Twin Peaks.
Twixt affirms what has often been Coppola’s problem as a filmmaker following his incredible one-two-three punch of The Godfather, The Conversation, and The Godfather: Part II: He’s an elegant classical narrative filmmaker attempting to squeeze himself into an esoteric art-film box that doesn’t suit his sensibilities. A three-act narrative gives Coppola a structure with which he can hang his ideas and predilections, but a freer, more experimental form causes him to retreat to derivations of other artists’ symbols. There wasn’t a convincing or original moment in Youth Without Youth or Tetro, and there’s nothing in Twixt you haven’t seen in three dozen other lame indie-noir comedies before it. It occasionally threatens to yield some subtextual fruit, but Coppola always fritters it away with a belabored and meaningless aside, the most embarrassing of which concerns a group of “bad” youth bikers who appear to have wandered in from Rumble Fish and who serve to further illustrate what an old fogy Coppola has apparently become.
The image looks extremely fake and overtly tinkered with in post-production, but that’s because it is and has been. In fairness, it would appear that the artificiality was actively intended. Texture is poor, grain levels are oddly low, and the colors are often overpoweringly vivid in a manner that’s garish rather than beautiful. In short, the film looks like an unremarkable video game, and it isn’t too pleasant to behold, but that, again, seems to be the point, and this transfer adequately obliges. The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 boasts solid dimension and nuance.
“Twixt: A Documentary by Gia Coppola" is a nearly 40-minute featurette directed by Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, and while the elder filmmaker’s occasional display of paternal affection is touching, it doesn’t elevate what’s basically just another assemblage of dull behind-the-scenes footage. And that’s it.
This edition makes a weak, halfhearted case for Francis Ford Coppola’s latest oddity, which can use all the defense it can get.