Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
par Kim Newman

When Teresa Banks, a waitress, is found dead in Washington State, FBI chief Gordon CoIe sends Special Agent Chester Desmond with his younger associate Sam Stanley to investigate. Despite the hostile local sheriff, Desmond unearths significant dues before he mysteriously disappears. Agent Dale Cooper, who suffers from precognitive dreams, is distracted by the brief spectral reappearance of Phillip Jeffnes, another vanished agent, but concludes that the killer will strike again. Later, in Twin Peaks, Oregon, high school princess Laura Palmer is torn between Bobby Briggs, her cocaine connection, and James Hurley, a sensitive biker. lncreasingly indulging her drug habit. She confides in best friend Donna Hayward that she has regularly been molested in her home by Bob, a demonic figure. Leland Palmer, Laura's father, is in fact Bob, having either been possessed by an extradimensional entity or driven mad by incestuous urges. As Cooper has further dreams, in which he sees Bob in a curtained netherworld called the Lodge, Laura gradually realises that Bob and her father are the same being. Donna insists on coming along on one of Laura's nocturnal excursions, where she earns money for drugs through prostitution - in which enterprise she was connected with Teresa Banks - in a hellish club run by Jacques Renault on the Canadian border. Although she surrenders to the advances of a loutish man, Laura is shocked to see a drugged Donna similarly degraded and rescues her friend. Laura accompanies Bobby when he goes to make a drugs connection, and witnesses bis impulsive shooting of a corrupt deputy - who had tried to obstruct Chester Desmond- delivering cocaine. An angel in a picture on Laura's bed room wall vanishes and she is visited by Annie, a bloodied vision from the future. She tells Laura that Dale is trapped in the Lodge, referring to Agent Cooper's future possession, after Leland's death. by Bob. Laura confides in James, who refuses to believe in her secret life and then joins Jacques. hooker Ronette Pulaski and local thug Leo Johnson in an orgy. Left tied up by Jacques and Leo, Laura is found by Leland/Bob and, along with Ronette, dragged to a disused railroad car, where she is further abused and killed. After death, Laura is transported to the Lodge, where she has a vision of an angel, and smiles.

Given that Twin Peaks, the television series, represents a bizarre fusion of the values of prime-time soap-mystery with the sado-delirium of David Lynch's evolving vision, it is at once surprising and horrifyingly inevitable that this feature spin-off should pare away all the elements that made the show bearable and cultishly appealing, coming up with what may well be the director's cruellest film since Eraserhead. Refusing to satisfy the series' fans' wish to know what happens next by not picking up from the show's cliffhanger ending - which is referred to obliquely by the momentary appearance of the inexplicable Annie, who refers to a future when Bob has (temporarily?) prevailed over Agent Cooper - the film instead returns to the backstory of Laura Palmer. Furthermore, in pruning the catch phrases, comic subplots, big-business soap, eccentric flourishes, playful eroticism, and detective story elements, not to mention many popular characters/actors, from the original series, the film deliberately chooses to alienate a large segment of the audience who found the show likeable - as witness the extremely hostile reaction to its screening at Cannes - and to concentrate on a genuinely disturbing, genuinely frightening descent into Hell. Indeed, Lynch opens with a prologue designed to disorient the viewer familiar with the show by dramatising the Teresa Banks case as a capsule re run (pre-run?) of the whole plot - another evocative theme tune, another dead girl, another FBI agent, another sheriff, another diner, another forensics man, another clutch of eccentrics. The difference is that this presents a joyless, glum and senile community bereft of the pretty girls, natural beauty, ensemble acting camaraderie and skewed charm which make up much of the appeal of Twin Pesks. The only familiar element is Lynch himself, cast in the role of the hard'of-hearing Cole, who introduces Agent Desmond to his dancing mime cousin. Her peculiar act delivers a complex message which Desmond then decodes for his sidekick, Kiefer Sutherland, in a parody both of the process of intuitive deduction from minimal does upon which Cooper's investigations depend, and of the way Lynch's own works tend to be combed for multi-level symbols and signifiers that, in the end, may be no more than atmospheric set-dressing, multiple McGuffins. Although the first half of the series was mainly concerned with raking over the ashes of the past shown here, Twin Peaks, the television show, abjured almost completely the use of flash backs, preferring to present possible versions of the past as various characters were drawn down the same path as Laura Palmer. The most powerful moment, in a Lynch-directed episode, was Leland/Bob's murder of Laura's lookalike cousin, named Madeleine Ferguson in a nod/reference/homage to Vertigo, and also played by Sheryl Lee. This renders redundant in narrative terms anything in the current film, an aspect made even more bizarre by the inevitable process of time, whereby all the actors who return from the show are now older, even though the film takes place before everything we have seen. The only replacement cast member - Moira Kelly taking over from Lara Flynn Boyle - is actually more convincing as a younger version of her character than any of the others, who are taking up not from where they left off but from a point prior to where they started in the first place. The conventional way of providing a film to cap the cancelled series would have been to take up all the unresolved plot-lines and tie them in a neat knot, preferably allowing Cooper a victory over Bob and revealing which characters survived or were killed in the explosion that untidily scrambled a whole bunch of storylines in the final episode. This prequel, however, is actually more in line with the general drive of Twin Peaks which, with all its time hopping, was as concerned with delving into the hidden past as progressing into the narrative future. After the prologue, there is a flurry of re-establishing touches - micro cameos from series regulars like Mädchen Amick and Eric DaRe, capsule scenes to recreate plot elements - before the film plunges into Laura Palmer's degradation. In the monster father figure of Leland/Bob. Lynch has a bogeymsn who puts Craven's Freddie Krueger to shame by bringing into the open the incest, abuse and brutality which the Elm Street movies conceal behind MTV surrealism sud fiip wisecracks. When Donna is slipped a hallucinogen at the Renault roadhouse, the images (and, as usual with Lynch, the multi-layered sud terrifying soundtrack) couldn't be any more disturbing. The film's many moments of horror- an excursion into a drab room in a picture given Laura by a spectral old woman and which turns out to be one of the entrances to the Lodge,' Laura's hysterical and numbed laughter as Bobby is shocked by the murder he has committed: the alternations of the glowering Leland with the insanely evil Bob - demonstrate just how tidy, conventional and domesticated the generic horror movie of the 80s and 90s has become. The angel that finally adds a touch of hope in Laura's after life, and which could have strayed in from Lynch's Wild at Heart where she was played by Sheryl Lee, is the single up-beat element in a movie relentlessly concerned with nightmare. While not exactly comfortable or pleasurable viewing, Fire Walk with Me succeeds in showing the sour heart that has always lurked beneath the union leaves of the show.

Kim Newman
Sight and Sound, Juillet 1992