David Lynch’s film adaptation/prequel to the famous TV series Twin Peaks was a critical and commercial flop on its release but now deserves to be recognised as one of the horror classics of the 1990s.
Chronicling the last week in the life of Laura Palmer, a beautiful high school girl with a dangerous secret life of sex, drugs and exceedingly seedy individuals, Fire Walk With Me delves into the darkness only hinted at in the series but offers no easy answers to its mysteries. Many of the old cast members return to reprise their television characters ranging from the brilliantly eccentric to the wonderfully over sincere, while Laura herself is played with gusto and not a little shrieking madness by Sheryl Lee. While scenes of red curtained rooms, dwarves talking backwards, the ‘log lady’, and of course the horrifying ‘Bob’ will be familiar to Twin Peaks fans, new additions are present too. The image of a boy with pointy mask is especially disturbing as well as a fascinating cameo by the often oak-like acting talent of David Bowie as the “long lost” Agent Phillip Jeffries.
With Fire Walk With Me you get a sense that this was everything Lynch wanted the series to be: dark, visceral, and terrifying. This is a journey through a nightmare world of erotic pleasures and violent thrills seen through the filter of a self destructive young girl. The realm of the ‘black lodge’ is explored here with more detail and gothic strangeness than ever before. While we are left wondering what images of unexplained symbols, weird pictures, FBI codes, and of course, sparking electricity could all mean there is no doubt that this is a work of surreal majesty. While Angelo Badalamenti’s score is as hypnotic as ever, it is Lynch’s visuals which are truly incredible. Whereas some of Lynch’s later work, particularly INLAND EMPIRE (Lynch prefers capitals), is ill disciplined and even ugly at times; even for the uninitiated Fire Walk With Me is never short of darkly, intoxicatingly beautiful.
It is also perhaps one of Lynch’s most complete films – an amalgamation of his obsessions, a cross between the noir and corrupted beauty of Mulholland Drive and the dark spiritualism of Eraserhead. Dismissed by some critics as merely a roller coaster of collected vices, Fire Walk With Me is far more; a terrifying, spiralling descent into madness, fear and the very blackest evil imaginable. It is in a completely different spirit to the series and perhaps this is partly the reason for it’s commercial failure. Gone is the wit, irony and much of the quirky fun of the series, replacing it is a long, deep stare into the very abyss between our world and the next. The couple of hours watching Fire Walk With Me we truly “live inside a dream” and what a bizarre and nightmarish dream it is. This is a work of sublime genius, a surrealist horror masterpiece without equal.
Yet it is certainly not for everyone, perhaps not even for many of the fans of the original show. Despite it being, generally speaking, a prequel, knowledge of both the characters and plot (as much as there is one) is almost essential. If you have never seen the original television series Fire Walk With Me will be at worst alienating, baffling and highly frustrating or at best intriguing, alienating and still completely baffling. Nor is there much here to garner him new fans from those who were unconvinced by Lynch’s other film work with its characteristically overwrought dialogue, ambiguous symbolism and complete disregard for coherent storytelling.
A specialist film if ever there was one; a superb film for us Lynch devotees, probably nothing more than a visual exercise for the rest.