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Here is a film that will sharply divide its audiences and that’s exactly what happened at TWIXT’s world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Those who hated it plotted harm against its director, Francis Ford Coppola. Those who adored it were rightly confused but in a very good way. No matter what your reaction the consensus is the same and that’s that there was no other picture at TIFF like it.
Mixing media, genre, moods and messages, Coppola’s self financed, self reflexive surrealist horror mystery casts a heavier but no less compelling Val Kilmer as a nickel and dime fantasy writer who ends up in a nothing little half dead town. His goal is to hopefully move a few units of his latest novel, but his agent has stuck him in a hardware store with a book section and needless to say, no one knows – or cares – who the hell he is. Except the local Sherriff played by a welcome and wild eyed Bruce Dern. He knows the author’s work very well and proposes a collaboration of his concoction, a grim tale he christens “The Vampire Executions”, a story stemming from the latest body kept on ice in the morgue, that of a young girl with a stake driven deep into her heart.
Suddenly Kilmer is having bizarre dreams of glowing, brace faced goth girls circling the local hotel, a place where Edgar Allen Poe is said to have slept. And then, of course, the ghost of Poe himself shows up, uncovering a murder mystery steeped in hypocrisy and vampirism – or is it? Is Kilmer losing his mind? Is Dern hiding something?
Does it matter?
The joy of TWIXT is to watch Coppola unspool a film that acts on instinct and impulse as opposed to narrative drive, a picture that celebrates the joy of experimenting free of the commercial choke of any kind of studio system. And man does he have fun here playing with his cast, his toys and his audience. Kilmer is seen arguing frequently with his demanding wife, played by Kilmer’s real ex-wife Joanne Whaley, via skype. The two actors have been embroiled in legal battles for years and while I cant vouch for their current relationship, TWIXT asks them to re-enact their marital woes without ever having to share a scene. It’s one of the many odd touches at work in here. Elsewhere a pair of 3D glasses zip onto screen, prompting audiences to slip on their real D goggles and immerse themselves in one of Kilmer’s many hallucinations. Gimmick wise, it recalls the ancient 1961 Canadian horror flick THE MASK and – although TWIXT’s many detractors have targeted this odd dimensional sidebar – I found it to be a brilliantly William Castle-esque interactive diversion and not only that…some of the best damn 3D photography I’ve ever seen, with stakes jutting from the screen and a really deep sense of layering...
Green screen, faux-goth imagery that recalls Coppola’s work in pictures like RUMBLE FISH but with blood; vampire girls whose braces snap off to reveal growing fangs; eccentric behavior of every kind; frustration, boredom, exhilaration…they’re all part of FFC’s wicked, weird, completely original concoction. But perhaps most importantly, all this funny, wonderful, creepy nonsense serves the purpose to be the director’s own cathartic, masochistic re-living of one of his own most devastating personal tragedies.
TWIXT is most assuredly not for everyone though I suspect if the words ‘A Film By David Lynch” preceded the on-screen titles, its haters might not be as vocal. Whatever it is, it stands alone and defies you to follow it. And for a man of Coppola’s age and legacy to be this bold is cause for celebration.
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