The kinetic interaction between sub- and super-conscious that drives the creative process is at the heart of Francis Ford Coppola’s TWIXT. A heady brew of fever dreams, absurd nightmares, and impotent despair, it uses the idiom of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin) leading the ironically monikered, third-rate author Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) through the mysteries of the latter’s life, inner and outer, in much the same manner that Vergil led Dante through Hell and Purgatory.
Baltimore, a once promising talent, has found himself in Swann Valley, an eerie burg with a history of mass murder, and a seven-faced tower clock that tells seven different times. He’s pushing his latest novel, though the town’s lack of a bookstore has him attempting to move copies in a corner of the local hardware store. There he is accosted by the local sheriff, Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern), an aficionado of both horror stories and woodworking. They get off to a bumpy start, but an unidentified body in the local morgue, one with a stake driven through its heart, spurs Baltimore’s curiosity and his imagination. As does the mysterious, aetherial girl in white (Elle Fanning), who seems to glow of her own accord as she tells strange tales of child murders, damned souls, and the travails of having buck teeth.
Baltimore’s waking hours are spent bickering by Skype about money with his wife (Joanne Whalley, the ex-Mrs. Kilmer) and his agent (David Paymer), having his head filled with local lore by LaGrange about the native evil of thee place, and pondering Edgar Allen Poe, who spent a night at a now-abandoned hotel, His sleeping hours, though, are a rich panoply of eerie monochromatic landscapes illuminated only by a gibbous moon that floats meaningfully over earth, and by Poe’s lantern, which glows with the molten yellow of the sun. In between, the twixt, perhaps of the title, he is in a no-man’s-land that may be either the waking world or the sleeping. Scenes of domestic unease in impossible locations. Song standards that are just a little wrong. A fireplace has a mind of its own, and a band of kids on the far side of a lake may or may not be the embodiment of evil or the projection of society‘s paranoia.
Using the practical effects for which he has such a passion, Coppola creates an evocative universe, magnetic yet ominous. The cues for the audience to put on and take off the 3D glasses for the intermittent scenes shot in same are subtle, even playful, as are the biting humor that battles with the danger of Baltimore’s adventure. There are nods to Hitchcock, Maddin, and Lynch, as well as a love letter to Universal’s stable of horror classics, but all distilled into a fine quintessence designed to keep the audience as off-kilter as Baltimore himself as history is revealed, guilt exposed, and Poe’s “The Raven” is deconstructed without for a moment losing any of its magic.
TWIXT is a visual tour-de-force. An intellectual one, too, not in the least for the way it shows the author’s terror of writing that first line. For Kilmer, it’s a meaty role rife with opportunities to explore a damaged psyche slowly awakening from complacency. Mannered though it may be, it is sublime, capable of resonating in the darkest part of the viewer’s soul, and provoking the most profound reactions.