There are several “white whales” in the horror film community; lost or shelved films that, for one reason or another, elude the casual fright fan and exist only in the realm of rumor and conjecture from those who have supposedly seen a cut. These films currently include The Poughkeepsie Tapes, The Knights of Badassdom, 7500 and Area 51, although a long-standing title can now be removed from this list, as Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt is finally hitting DVD and Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox. Twixt, Coppola’s first effort in the horror genre since his take on Dracula, was a major attraction at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con, offering a surreal panel and screening of dreamlike footage that sparked interest in cinephiles worldwide. However, plans for the film to go on a personalized rolling theatrical roadshow were nixed, and the film long remained a mystery, leaving behind various surreal stills into a gothic story of ghosts and murder.
And although the critical reaction on the film has been polarized, one cannot deny the film is a fascinating creature, one that’s written so eloquently and hypnotically yet begrudged by its glaring budgetary limitations. As a film, Twixt is a bizarre and imaginative folk tale unlike many before it, shaped in the fashion of a David Lynch or Alan Parker film but with inspirations much more in line with its more obviously symbolic inspiration, Edgar Allen Poe. And although the film is by no means a perfect endeavor, with several weak scenes taking place in the flexible “reality” of the story, Twixt is too unique and entertaining to be ignored, allowing its poetic dialogue and captivating framework immerse the viewer into its atmospheric world.
In the simplest terms, Twixt is a mix between murder mystery and classical gothic horror, as a third-rate horror fiction writer (Val Kilmer) traverses through an odd, divisive town and the frightening, macabre nightmare realm he finds himself in during his lapse of consciousness. In time, these two realities converge as the mystery behind the murder of a young girl (Elle Fanning) becomes clearer, and the line between what’s rumor and what’s truth dissolves by the minute. In a lot of ways, Twixt is one of Coppola’s most narratively ambitious films in years, even if the technical aspects are simple and evidently cheap in nature. And although the film is not explicitly surreal in nature, there are many surreal elements to Twixt that certainly shows how playful and experimental Coppola had treated the material, which he wrote as well.
The main issues with the film lie in two major areas: the first would be the visually deficient cinematography, courtesy of the talented Mihai Malaimare Jr. who previously shot P.T. Anderson’s The Master and Coppola’s last two films, Youth Without Youth and Tetro; the second would be the performances of those outside of the main cast, seemingly confused or uncommitted to the unconventional dialogue or complex mythology within the film. In the first area, the issues mostly spawn from the film’s shot-on-video style, which attempts to provide more in terms of spatial understanding rather than cinematic gloss. This takes away from the film immensely, which would otherwise provide a gorgeous palate for the gothic nightmares to visually live and breathe. Close-ups that should inspire tension and fear instead lay stale on Coppola’s frames, as if he were intentionally constructing a straight-to-video piece. The second are is much more forgivable, as the performances of the leads, albeit not as impressive as in previous efforts from the directors, are strong enough to carry past the weaknesses of some supporting players, especially Joanne Whalley who seems content with a strained and uninspired performance as the wife of Hall Baltimore, the film’s lead protagonist. Lastly, the effects of the film is marred significantly by the film’s purported $7 million budget, making many of the green-screen enhanced sets and action sequences look more frustrating than frightening.
However, Twixt’s tale is elevated immensely by the lead performances and the film’s storyline, which serves as an engaging and spellbinding dive into the darkest corners of Coppola’s imagination. Val Kilmer injects the film with an emotionally charged and simultaneously frenetic performance, embracing the wicked humor of the film and rising even to the films more horrific and oblique set pieces. Elle Fanning also embraces the Lynchian nature of the film, conveying her lines like mystical poetry and aggressively embodying the supernatural aspects of her character. Ben Chaplin and Bruce Dern also stand out amongst the gonzo suspense tale in which they reside within, with the former taking great restraint and quietness to his role and the latter acting as a chaotic and blunt force of comic relief. Alden Ehrenreich and Anthony Fusco also shine in smaller yet important roles, and David Paymer and Tom Waits (who serves as the unseen narrator) brings their inimitable presence to the proceedings as well.
But Twixt’s secret weapon lies in its shockingly strong story, allowing Coppola to craft a world with Burton-esque grandiosity within an aura of intimacy. The main mystery is somewhat predictable, with plot progression not being hard to figure out, especially for seasoned horror fans. However, the journey towards the inevitable is unlike any other in recent memory, blending together the surreal with the melodramatic but with a twist of gruesome fantasy, much akin to a hallucinatory Grimm Brothers outing. Of course, Twixt will not appeal to all horror fans, as there’s a patience necessary to sift through the grating cinematography and the distinctively odd mythology on display. However, Twixt is a curious and compelling work of experimental horror, as appealing to the open-minded mystery fan as it is to the ardent surrealism supporter.
Despite the tainted presentation of the film by the overtly digital picture, Fox’s transfer is flawless, showing a clear and beautiful picture in every frame of Twixt. The digital filming limits the appearance of crush within dark spots and enhances the colors significantly, adding to the dreamlike quality of the film. And of course, without the film to appear grainy, this package will please any High-Definition privy grain-hater.
The Audio transfer on this set is practically perfect, utilizing the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 conversion for this film. Dialogue and music is clear and concise, ADR is barely noticeable and there is no hiss to be found for the entirety of the film’s 88 minute runtime.
Unfortunately, this set’s biggest disappointment comes in the form of the special features, as a singular documentary on the “Making of” by Gia Coppola is the sole extra on the Blu-ray set. For such a strange production with such a storied release process, one would expect a commentary or possibly deleted scenes, but there is none to be found.
In terms of literal frights, Twixt may be lacking, but the atmospheric dread and engulfing gothic nightmares make the film an endlessly fascinating and enjoyable tread into horror territory. Coppola molds a film unlike many others in its genre, and with the help of a strong lead cast and hypnotic cinematic rhythm, overcomes its financially-inspired flaws to emerge as a unique and chilling pleasant surprise.
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.