Review: Twixt (2011)

Horror Movie Mini-Review by Zeus | 2014-04-19

Twixt (2011)

Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is a horror writer whose book tour lands him in the back end of a hardware store, hawking his wares to uninterested locals. He's approached by Sheriff Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern, The 'Burbs), who reels him in with a wild-eyed offer to see something creepy. That turns out to be the shrouded body of a young girl with a five foot stake through her heart, the latest victim of a mysterious killer. Baltimore isn't very interested in the body, nor is he interested in Sheriff LaGrange's offer to team up and write a book about the killings. At least until later that night, when he slips away from his hotel into a black and white dreamworld, where he meets a haunting young woman (Elle Fanning) who goes by the name of V. She's a fan of his writing, but doesn't stick around when they come across a creepy hotel, the scene of local tragedy, forgotten by time and wrapped in shame.

More than anything, Twixt resembles a full motion videogame from the early 90s. All the key elements are there: Over the hill actors, unnatural greenscreen sets, scenery chewing conversations during the daytime scenes, and subdued paranormal mystery at night. If I hadn't been there myself during filming -- more on that later -- I might have wondered if this movie was assembled from the cutting room floor of some lost Sillywood multimedia project.

Baltimore wakes from the apparent drunken nightmare to a Skype call from his wife. Unless he can secure an advance on his next book, she's going to sell off his prized possessions. Baltimore's agent (David Paymer, Payback) has a somewhat mercenary approach to writing: "It's gotta have a lot of story, it can't have a lot of style bullshit... it's gotta have an ending, a bullet-proof ending." (I took this be director Francis Ford Coppola screaming, "Twixt will have tons of style, but not much story! And you're gonna hate the ending!") Baltimore steals the Sheriff's idea for a novel about vampire executions, complete with vampire "electric chair," and gives him no more than a story credit. What follows is a scene that doesn't border on the absurd so much as completely surround it, drive a stake through its heart, and declare itself the new king of buffoonery. Baltimore combats writers block with a stream of consciousness monologue that must be seen to be believed. I don't want to spoil it, other than to say it involves Kilmer coming up with a number of hilariously offensive characters. Suffice it to say, when I tell people about this scene, they think I'm kidding. Unable to overcome writers block with... whatever the hell that was, Baltimore downs various sleeping pills, eager to return to the dreamworld for inspiration.

Style over substance is fine, but it helps to maintain a sense of style throughout the movie. Once V all but disappears, Baltimore's subsequent dreams are spent in the company of Edgar Allan Poe, who dispenses writing advice in a suspiciously modern accent. While I dig the whole "spirit lantern guide" visual (straight out of Marebito or Insidious), these dreams are nowhere near as surreal and captivating as the first. It's as if each segment of Sin City grew progressively less visually striking, until you were left with a standard black and white movie. Not only that, but the plot goes to shit, and the whole thing ends (predictably enough) with the movie all but laughing at you for sticking around until the end.

But that's exactly what I'm going to suggest you do. Here's why: A few years ago, my vehicle broke down in the hills of Northern California. The repair shop secretary told me someone was filming a movie, so I strolled into town for some coffee. Imagine my surprise when I saw Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, and hunched over a camera, Francis Ford Coppola. Now, I always thought Val Kilmer was a cool dude. Top Secret! and Real Genius are two of my favorite comedies. And Bruce Dern nailed it in The 'Burbs. They were shooting one scene, take after take, though the end result makes it into the movie for two seconds. First Dern would drive up in front of the building serving as police station, hop out and do a twirly, "Park right here!" motion with his hand. Then Kilmer would pull up beside him, get out, and stare off suspiciously into the distance -- which, by coincidence, turned out to be right where I was standing. If this was a police procedural, you could zoom into the reflection of his sunglasses and spot me grinning. People think of California as movie stars and swimming pools, but nobody films this far north outside of redwood forests for Star Wars or Jurassic Park. Seeing them shoot this silly movie brightened up an otherwise crappy day. I don't care if the visuals run out of steam midway through, and the plot borders on parody (I didn't even mention the punk rock goth kids permanently camped out across the lake!). Twixt is my vacation movie. It's not very good, but I was there, so I'm going to make you watch it anyway.

Review: 3/5 Stars

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