in Criterion Month, Review

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

I took a Sporcle quiz a week ago (remember Sporcle?) that compiled results from different publications to make an unofficial list of the “100 Greatest Horror Movies.” Most of the list was business as usual; Halloween, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, yadda, yadda. What surprised me coming in at number 100 was Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Is this actually a horror movie? And do I, a horror fanatic, agree with this placement? And how does this movie fare for a fair-weather Twin Peaks “fan.”

I think it’s important to establish right off the bat that I’m not the biggest Twin Peaks fan. I have a lot of admiration for the show and its boldness in an era dominated by bland family sitcoms. What I’ve always struggled with is the pacing and tone. Lynch is one of the few directors I can think of who can do a dramatic character scene, have it interrupted by a boy skipping around in a bird mask, and then have it celebrated and talked about for decades.

I’ve seen about a season and a half of Twin Peaks, which seemed like enough of a prerequisite for a prequel movie. What I failed to consider is that this movie would spoil the rest of the show if I ever wanted to pick it up again. The show is about trying to figure out who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). The movie is about how she died.

Fire Walk with Me is a terrifying premise for a movie. “What if we watched the last days of a young woman before her tragic death?” I get why it’s categorized as horror on that premise alone. Throw in a supernatural boogeyman like Bob (Frank Silva) and other shit that doesn’t make sense and you got yourself pure nightmare fodder.

The film opens with a thirty minute prologue where a bland Chris Isaak and fun but weird Kiefer Sutherland play FBI agents investigating the death of a woman named Teresa Banks in Deer Meadow, Washington. Sounds normal so far right? Except they are given information by a woman at an airport, Lil (Kimberly Anne Cole), via a coded dance. Yeah, this is how you divulge plot points. The duo collect evidence and eventually return to FBI headquarters.

At the FBI Headquarters, we see David Bowie (possibly doing the worst American accent ever burned into celluloid) as a fellow agent who has remerged after years, ranting about “BOB” and “mysterious spirits” until he teleports out of the room and seemingly out of most people’s memory. That is except for Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) who’s been having dreams about strange phenomena.

I have no idea why this prologue is in the film. If I had to take a guess I would say it acts as a nice opportunity to give Agent Cooper (the star character of the show) some screen time in a story he really has no place in. The prologue also builds up our antagonist Bob and the other supernatural forces that plague others who come into contact with this creepy little corner of the Pacific Northwest.

After the prologue, we follow Laura as she goes about her struggles as a teen. Laura is cheating on her boyfriend, doing cocaine, and has the sneaking suspicion someone is stalking her. Since we know things aren’t going to end well for Laura there isn’t a goal per se that we expect the character to reach. If anything the film is about coming to terms with your own inevitable demise. Fuck dude.

I’m not a huge fan of Laura’s soap opera hot problems with Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) and James (James Marshall), but I’m here for the nightmare stuff. The scares work especially well considering how good Sheryl Lee is in this film. If only the MTV “Scared as Sh*t Award” existed back in 1992. She would have been a lock.

Another actor who never seems to struggle with even the most bizarre Lynch material is Ray Wise as Laura’s intense father Leland. Ray Wise can play menacing, sweet, funny, scary, and insane without ever feeling like he’s doing too much. Lynch material isn’t easy but there is a way to handle it. Ray handles it wisely. Eh?

I don’t know, dude. I couldn’t follow any of this. It’s like a feature length nightmare. So I can appreciate the film on that level. I just don’t care about the story or the dialogue. It’s a lot of fun to look at but I can’t personally engage with it on any emotional level. I was a little rattled by the tone but it wasn’t a feeling that lingered.

Is Fire Walk with Me one of the 100 Greatest Horror Movies of the 90s? It might not be on my list but I don’t think it’s a ludicrous statement. The film has scary moments, it’s a scary idea. That passes the smell test in my book. Though to be fair, every movie David Lynch has made has been kind of a horror movie. Did you see The Straight Story? That guy had to drive 240 miles on his tractor. That would sure scare the hell out of me.