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Fans are an exceptionally fickle segment of humanity. Quick to applaud a new success and even faster to denounce a shortcoming the fan frequently makes demands on the artistic object of their infatuation that are nearly impossible to achieve within the context of reality. In most instances they clamor for something new and fresh yet deride the artist for deviations from their established techniques. Let’s face it people; you can’t have vital artist has to grow in their craft, a process that fundamentally requires experimentation in methodology, style and content. The very nature of experimentation demands some experiments will come closer to achieving the desired effect than others. Still, if you consider yourself a true fan of the artist you will either accept this or attempt to grow in a similar way or find another object for your attention. In the case of the horror movie, ‘ Twixt’ you will find a perfect example of the above described phenomenon. The filmmaker behind this project who as earned a seat at the master’s table, Francis Ford Coppola. Although when you think of the films associated with his oeuvre, horror is a noticeable outlier. Your mind natural initially goes towards the ‘Godfather Saga’ or ‘Apocalypse Now’, the works that placed Academy awards on his mantle. With such undisputable achievements in the annals of cinematic history he certainly has nothing to prove regarding his talent. At this point in his illustrious he has certainly earned the right to explore previously overlooked genres and challenges to the filmmaker’s ability. Few involved with films has earned the status to challenge this man. With that stated this is an experimental film that understandably does not rise to the top of his accomplishments.

The underlying premise is something that pops up in the genre on a rather regular basis. Typically it includes a tongue in cheek reference to the author himself as demonstrated by works like ‘Bag of Bones’ by Steven King were a frustrated author under pressure by his editor to produces the pages of his next offering. Here the author, Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is on a book tour; his latest stop in a small town, Swann Valley. The tour is critical to Baltimore; while his first novel hit the best seller list his subsequent efforts were met with at best what could only be described as lackluster. This fall from the charts is entwined with a traditional vice of writers, alcohol abuse. Hoping to garner an iota of inspiration he lingers in the town to investigate a local mystery. An unexpected perk to help in this goal is his lodgings, a hotel that boasts Edgar Allen Poe as a former tenant. There are also visitations from the spirit of Tween girl, V (Elle Fanning), one of several victims murdered in the 1800’s; Baltimore receives assistance from two very different sources, the local sheriff Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern ) and visitations in his dreams of Poe (Ben Chaplin). Now there is an active investigation of the murder of a young girl.

The physical elements of the town help to reinforce the bizarre history of the place. The clock in the main square has seven faces; each one displaying a different time. This might be attributed to a lacking budget for civic maintenance if not for the gloomy shadow of the old time serial killer. The mystery commences in earnest when Baltimore stakes out a corner of the local bookstore to sign copies when the sheriff, a fan, brings him in on a new case with gruesome overtones, a stake driven through her heart. The personal turmoil in the writer’s life is explored by means of arguments via Skype with his wife, Denise (Joanne Whalley) over the ever dwindling income. This does infuse a couple of interesting foot notes; the modern communication method of video chatting as juxtaposed to ghostly visitations and supernaturally infused dream. The other is more in line with trivia. Ms Whalley was married to Kilmer for eight years producing a daughter. Of course there is the little fact that Poe died in the city of Baltimore Maryland. Another source of pressure of the declining revenue Baltimore’s books are earning is his literary agent, Sam (David Paymer).

Undoubtedly this is a vast deviation from the main stream work of Mr. Coppola but for those that are familiar with his entire repertoire of films. One of his very early movies in that body of work was the 1963 cult horror classic, ‘Dementia 13’, frequent staple of mid-town grindhouses and drive-ins. This means that in some respects ‘Twixt’ represents a nostalgic visit to the humble beginnings of his career. In doing so Coppola drastically alters his cinematographic styling. Admittedly the movie is not consistent with the contemporary standards of the horror community it does entertain quite handily. Of course it is impossible to entirely eradicate so many decades of experience and development of his considerable abilities. The movie is a visually intriguing piece that builds upon that experience that made significant strides towards redefining the artistic aspects of movie making.

This is a gothic horror inspired story with modernizing touches woven throughout. The obvious contrasts between communication via internet and dream like visits is nicely reinforced by the more subtle use of color and black and white; helping to establish the most fundamental contrasting aspects; the murder of V with the current case involving a modern girl. The apparition is well played by rising star, Elle Fanning distinguishing her career from that of her also talented older sister, Dakota. Like her sibling Elle is faced with the precarious transition from child actor through the teen years and eventually her adult calling. Her choices are wisely covering a broad range; perfect for a young woman expanding her range. She has been working with some of the most exceptional talents in the business sharpening an already well-honed skill set. Val Kilmer has experienced the roller coaster inherent with an actor attaining longevity. He even played a corpse in a Polish western several years back. As such he manages to bring pathos of experience to the role of Hall Baltimore that distinguishes his presentation. While not the best horror movie around and not the top shelf for the filmmaker it is a fascinating look at retro horror.

Posted 07/09/2013

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