Saturday, September 07, 2013
Your opinion of Twixt might change the more you know about its maker, Francis Ford Coppola. I use the word "maker" because this new film, like Tetro and Youth Without Youth before it, is a product of Coppola's late self-contained phase. Coppola is working without studio backing here, functioning as writer, producer, and director and attempting to find a certain kind of freedom in low budgets and low expectations. On the surface Twixt feels like a disappointment, the story of a writer (Val Kilmer) investigating a decades-old small town mass murder with the help of the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin). There's a ghostly girl (Elle Fanning), a creepy sheriff (Bruce Dern), and a gang of goth outlaws across the lake, but if Twixt was meant to be a straight horror movie it would need a director more interested in balancing scares and humor and leading man with a better sense of irony. Kilmer's character Hall Baltimore is meant to be an alcoholic but merely looks puffy and uncomfortable, gliding above the movie in most of his scenes. There's a sequence of a blocked Baltimore trying to write where Kilmer unleashes a series of unexpectedly funny vocal impressions that feels like something concocted on the day, and an emotional reckoning that the actor handles well enough, but the movie needs something a little more committed.
Kilmer's performance isn't fatal because Coppola's real subject here isn't horror movie tropes but rather the way that guilt and creativity have danced with each other in the director's own life. Baltimore, known for writing a series of "witch stories", is blocked and faced with financial pressures because of a family tragedy that mirrors a well-known event in Coppola's own life and watching Twixt with that information makes the movie something else. I don't want to make this a straight autobiographical reading, but it's fascinating to think of Twixt as a an admission that Coppola doesn't know if he can or should try to escape the forces that forced him to direct a series of impersonal studio films in the '80s and '90s. Coppola's next project is reportedly a multi-generational Italian-American saga made with studio money. While it's heartening to see Coppola working on a larger stage, Twixt makes me wonder at what the size of the project might do to a great director's sense of self.