I was all set to rubbish Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me when I found myself in a post-modernist dilemma. Only a couple of years ago, Twin Peaks – the TV series – was consigned to the dustbin of passé after a fleeting burst of cult popularity. The film had a hostile reception at Cannes and flopped dismally at the American box-office. Director David Lynch’s brand of small-town Dirty Surrealism suddenly seemed oh-so-five-minutes-ago, as they say in these feverish fin-de-siècle times.
So imagine my consternation when I found myself warming to this infra-dig artefact. It begins with the destruction of a television set, as if announcing goodbye to the small screen, hello Panavision. Where the TV series kicked off with Laura Palmer’s corpse washing up on the riverbank, the movie slips back in time, introducing us to a previous victim of the mysterious serial killer “Bob” and then jumping forward again into the last week of Laura’s life, so we can wallow in the spectacle of the doomed homecoming queen becoming locked into a vicious spiral of drugs and sexual abuse.
But then maybe I liked the TV series for the wrong reasons. While quirky allusions to cherry pie and log ladies attracted most of the press coverage, I derived an almost unhealthy enjoyment from watching all those comely young actresses showing us how flat-heeled shoes and twin-sets should be worn.
At least two of my favourite starlets are missing from the movie version, but there is compensation in Sheryl Lee in the pivotal role of Laura. Sheryl raises soap opera acting to new heights of runny mascara, and periodically slips out of her sensible skirts to expose a gloriously tawdry range of Ann Summers-style lingerie underneath.
Of necessity, Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper is confined to a couple of dream sequences on the sidelines, which is a shame since he was a durable TV detective almost worthy of setting alongside Morse and Columbo. Instead, there are cameos from David Bowie, Chris Isaak, a backwards-speaking dwarf, and one of those white horses you can take anywhere.
Most of the TV regulars put in guest appearances which are scarcely relevant in a scenario which revels in its irrelevancies; coherence is not one of Lynch’s strong points – but then neither is it the point. This is like tuning in to someone else’s nightmare, one that is so wilfully perverse and relentlessly downbeat that it makes few concessions either to mainstream audiences or faithful Peakies.
But the main gain of the movie is that it gives Lynch free rein to apply the drip-drip of cumulative dread, enhanced by a sound-mix of Angelo Badalamenti’s chikka-boom muzak and the whoomph of ceiling fans. Seldom have bright middle-class homes seemed so ominous.
The dark secrets, when they are revealed, and the inevitable bloodletting, when it occurs, aren’t half so disturbing as an unfussy shot of a picture on the wall, an ashtray studded with an ikebana arrangement of cigarette butts, or an empty room. In several of those chill, still moments before anything has actually happened, Lynch reminds you that he is one of those rare directors who is capable of anything.
This review was first published in the Sunday Telegraph, November 1992.