The modern, mainstream 3D craze has been fighting for years to be treated as something more than just a Hollywood gimmick. And now that revered filmmakers like Wim Wenders, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are working with the format, it would seem there is at last reason to accept its standing and staying power, not to mention its potential. But then comes along Francis Ford Coppola, another director of the same generation and prestige, who has made a movie that blatantly treats 3D as a silly plaything. Never mind post-production conversion atrocities, Twixt is the worst thing for the format in years.
Haters of 3D may rejoice, but they should also be very disappointed with Coppola regardless. He claims to have included only short sequences shot in 3D in his new horror flick because he finds the glasses to be a nuisance for the extent of a feature film. Yet it is impossible not to consider his stunt to be annoying in its own right. At the two moments 3D visuals kick in, a graphic of 3D specs pops up and fills the frame, telling us to find our own glasses and put them on. Obviously it’s executed in such a way as to take us out of the film experience before attempting to provide a heightened one. And these two scenes aren't even that spectacular in any dimension.
Not that Twixt is all that absorbing ahead of those moments, either. A kitschy homage to the 1950s “golden era” of the format, including the 3D version of Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder, Coppola’s latest is stiffly acted and full of campy scenes, the best of them featuring Bruce Dern at his hammiest. It falls somewhere between an excusably hokey B-side to Scorsese’s recent Hitch tribute, Shutter Island, and an atrocious student film by someone equally obsessed with Twin Peaks and Edgar Allan Poe, neither of which he seems to grasp in a way that other fans will appreciate.
Val Kilmer stars as Hall Baltimore, an acknowledged low-rent Stephen King type on a book tour for his latest installment of a witch-based series of novels. He stops in a strange small town for a signing and becomes wrapped up in a murder mystery, which he stays on to follow and then base a book upon, collaborating with the local sheriff (Dern). While there, he’s also assisted in his investigation of the case by a spectral young girl (Elle Fanning) and the dream-based ghost of Poe (Ben Chaplin), who isn't shy about talking of his child bride as it may relate to the whodunit.
I’m not sure which I typically despise more, the mystery author-turned-detective concept (Murder, She Wrote excluded) or the phantom idol-as-muse device (Play It Again, Sam excluded). Fortunately the story involves vampires, so I can concentrate my utmost disappointment with Twixt’s lack of originality on that frustratingly overexposed entity, even if I do like the film’s idea of showing what happens to braces when fangs protrude. Oh, actually maybe Coppola’s use of black and white mixed with isolated items in bold color is my least favorite of the tired choices Coppola makes here.
Honestly I wouldn’t be that upset with the uninspired aspects of Twixt if it weren’t for a few significant reasons I’ll quickly mention. One is that the film uses so much foggy dream atmosphere that it nearly ruins the evoked dream sequence material from Coppola’s best film, The Conversation. Another is the fact that another horror film premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, the French creepfest Livid, similarly evolves from campfire ghost story to bizarre vampire tale and is so much more imaginative, even if still imperfectly so, and is much scarier and is even more mind-blowingly rich and stunning and interesting in its cinematographic beauty. Someone like Coppola should not be so overrun by younger talent, should he?
The third reason is the most critical. Coppola intends to do road show screenings of Twixt, where he’ll re-edit the film after (or is it during?) each presentation depending on audience response. It’s a neat idea, both progressive and retro, keeping with the William Castle influence, but I don’t know that new cuts will improve it. The film’s faults are more in the story and what has been shot, not the arrangements of either. For a worthy, frightening experience, I’d suggest the filmmaker also bring “electric chairs for vampires” as seen in the film as mechanical staking devices, for each audience member to sit in while watching. I think that’s what Castle would have done.