Films / Horror

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was released in 1992 to mass critical planning. It made zero money at the box office and was widely hated by both audiences and critics – Tarantino, a then up and coming director, hated it, claiming that he would never watch another David Lynch movie again. Lynch had, in the critical consciousness, disappeared so far into pretentious nonsense that he had lost it, and people were angry. The problem was that Twin Peaks, despite being a critical darling in its early days, had become tired – audiences were sick of it and critics wanted rid of it, and so the prequel movie was unfairly maligned on its release. However, looking back at the movie twenty years later, free from the context of the day, it’s clear that Fire Walk with Me has a lot to offer, and despite some obvious shortcomings, is a fantastically compelling piece of the David Lynch cannon. It just wasn’t wanted at the time.laura palmerThe film has an unusual structure – it’s a prequel but begins long before the television show, featuring FBI agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) investigating the mysterious murder of Teresa Banks in a town called Deer Meadow – a murder mentioned in the show as the copy-cat predecessor to Laura Palmer’s demise. Twin Peak’s star, Kyle MacLachan, briefly appears as Agent Cooper. Then the movie switches tone and follows Laura Palmer – the murder victim of the original show – as she goes through her final days of existence in the town of Twin Peaks.laura palmerTo start with, the double-plot system simply doesn’t work. The opening scenes with the FBI investigation feel the most like Twin Peaks, with the same quirky comedy and undercurrent of darkness, albeit in the gritty setting of a poorer town. The plot doesn’t go anywhere though, and adds very little to the Twin Peaks cannon besides the confirmation that mysterious goings on have occurred in other towns, and is hampered by its dull lead characters. Isaak and Sutherland are ok, but given very little to do, and it’s clear that their scenes were initially written for MacLachen, at a time when his character’s involvement was supposed to be greater. MacLachen appears in a few throwaway scenes and lacks the charm he possessed in the series, showing a panicked, darker side which doesn’t gel with the film’s prequel roots. There’s also an utterly incomprehensible scene with David Bowie, which comes out of nowhere and quickly fades away. There was at the time, a thought that Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me would be the start of a movie series, and so these scenes clearly exist to fuel future plots – but since no sequels emerged, they stick out as fairly random and strange. The opening half hour of Fire Walk with Me is pretty poor, and could really be skipped.twin peaksThings pick up considerably once we return to Twin Peaks, as the second longer section of the film contains the real goods. The focus here is on the decline of Homecoming Queen Laura Palmer, who’s murder (the climax of this prequel) served as the catalyst for the show. In the series, there were hints of Laura’s duality – beautiful public darling with a promiscuous and drug-fuelled hidden life, but here we see everything in sordid, brutal detail, and it’s really uncomfortable to watch. This is a woman pushed to the edge, separated from death by a thread, and watching Laura Palmer go to pieces is horribly fascinating.  Both the audience and Laura know that she’s going that she’s going to die, and her downfall works in the way of great tragedy, horrendous to watch but utterly compelling too. Sheryl Lee is amazing in this movie as the doomed Laura Palmer, running the gauntlet of acting emotions, coming across as terrified, fatalistic, vulnerable and also courageous, a woman drawn to the darkness with a hopeless desire to escape. Lee gives an Oscar worthy performance, and it’s a shame that her role wasn’t given more praise at the time; people didn’t like the movie and so ignored it. It’s one of the most haunting and upsetting cinematic performances, and Lee gets so many impressive scenes – her uncomfortable horror around her father Leland (Ray Wise) stands out, as does her insane laughing fit induced by her boyfriend Bobby’s murderous actions – it’s hard to imagine many other actresses pulling this off. Her duality between good and evil – the theme which pushed Lynch to make this movie – is perfectly drawn, and there aren’t many cinematic heroines who display this much self-loathing and martyrdom. The moment when she saves her best friend Donna from following in her footsteps say so much about her character. It’s not pleasant to watch Lee’s Laura destroy herself, but at the same time it’s hard to look away, and brilliant in its sordid, gritty realism. Lynch is often criticised for his treatment of women (they tend to be violently, sexually abused in his movies) but its clear that he writes roles which actresses can thrive in – as witnessed years later by Naomi Watts in Mullholland Drive and Laura Dern in Inland Empire. There’s an almost Freudian, psychoanalytic depth to the treatment of Laura here, and Lee does so well portraying the character. It’s amazing Lee that didn’t get more work after this, but perhaps she was too ingrained into public culture to truly move on. She’ll always be Laura Palmer.laura palmerFire Walk with Me also stands as a great horror movie – one of the most powerful of the last twenty years, and watching the film, it becomes clear just how far most scary movies miss the mark. This is horror based on the true definition of the word – the grotesque, the things which can’t be unseen, the films which truly sicken you. The movie is already undercut by a sense of knowing dread, as we know Laura’s fate from the outset, but there are some truly frightening, nightmarish scenes here. We feel close to Laura, and protective of her, which makes her trauma all the more upsetting. The moment when she finds BOB lurking in her bedroom and runs out into the street crying is sickening, and there’s the sense that Laura isn’t safe anywhere – not even within her own room, and this feeling pervades over the film. This is of course fuelled by the film’s incest-heavy, child-molestation plot, which is really uncomfortable throughout. For fans of the show, and massive spoilers to those who aren’t, Laura is murdered by her father, who is possessed by demonic spirit BOB, a monster drawn to Laura by her pain and eventually, which uses her father to rape and kill her, as she won’t give in and let herself be taken over. Laura has been familiar with BOB for years, as he’s been ‘having her’ since she was 12, but seeing only his true form, she remains oblivious to the fact that the demon is her father until half-way through this movie. The horror of this realisation is truly terrifying, and taken out of context, BOB becomes a comforting figure here – without the show background, BOB can be seen as a representation of Laura’s denial over her molesting father, and Lynch plays on this to fantastic, horrific effect. The dinner scene, in which Leland – Wise at his most lunatic best – questions the cleanliness of his daughter whilst she looks on in horror, is utterly haunting. This is Lynch’s most uncompromising and most brutal movie, a suburban horror nightmare which plays into sexual, unconscious fears. The ending is almost impossible to watch. These moments make for something of a disturbing masterpiece, and its rare for a horror movie to hit this kind of visceral, distressing pressure. bobThese qualities go some way to explain the movie’s panning, despite it’s clear plus-points. It’s arguably very well shot and directed, has a fantastic cast – with Twin Peaks regulars popping up for minuscule cameos here and there (most jarring of these being Donna, played this time Moira Kelly, who does do a good job, but the casting change is hard to get used to) and possesses an amazing, dreamlike score. The problem of the movie’s reception relates to two things – firstly, the main plot is stylistically, nothing like Twin Peaks, being much darker and more upsetting – and so fans of the show weren’t too into it at the time. For everyone else, the film was a nightmare story of rape, molestation and incest in which the main heroine is brutally raped and murdered at the end – hardly the feel-good crowd pleaser of the year. In this sense, fans and non-followers couldn’t get into Laura’s plot – it was simply too uncomfortable. The second reason relates to the name itself – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Non-fans were treated to an utterly incomprehensible plot. Critics who had become tired of the show didn’t want anything to do with it. And fans who wanted answers were treated to a confusing opening plot line which didn’t explain much of anything. Hence why, at its release, the film was so widely panned – it simply didn’t appeal to any audience.laura palmerBut looking back at the movie now, without the buzz of Twin Peaks mania in the air, it’s clear that in some respects – primarily those relating to Laura Palmer – it’s somewhat of a horror masterpiece. The film should really be viewed out of context of the show, as the Laura story needs no background really to compel – it’s the disaster of a young beautiful girl in a horrific situation and being torn to pieces by her own interior hell. And that’s what makes the film so amazing – Laura – the character study of Laura, and her decline. It’s a story which doesn’t need to answer questions about the show, doesn’t really even need to fit in a canonical way – it just needs to be watched and taken in. And that’s how the movie needs to be watched – as a great, tragic horror story, without any real ties to hold it back. It should exist on its own.It’s Lynch’s most unpleasant and most distressing movie, and it’s clearly not for everyone. Fans and non-fans will have issues with it, and for various different reasons, but it really needs to be revalued as the horror classic that it is. It’s rare for a movie to make audiences this uncomfortable. Whilst the opening section is frankly pretty weak, the film’s great moments outweigh the bad, and whilst not a true follow up to the show, it really shouldn’t be viewed as such. This is dark, uncompromising film, and one which is slowly gaining the critical revaluation it deserves. Definitely worthy checking out for horror movie fans.

4/5

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2 thoughts on “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

  1. Pingback: Twin Peaks | Some Films and Stuff

  2. Pingback: Top 10 Scariest Movie Moments | Some Films and Stuff

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