Release Date: August 28th, 1992 (US); November 20th, 1992 (UK)
Genre: Horror; Mystery; Thriller
Starring: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Kyle MacLachlan
Before getting into the nitty-gritty — and this really is nitty and gritty — Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me opens with a 25 minute minisode. We watch as FBI Agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) investigate a murder in Deer Meadow that reeks with familiarity. While discussing cryptic messages Sam asks, “What exactly did that mean?” to which his partner replies, “I’ll explain it to you”. Fans of the television show have asking the same question and hoping for the same answer since the second season of Twin Peaks concluded, but answers are in short supply here.
David Lynch’s movie acts as a prequel to his cult TV hit, and is film that pitches its tent firmly in the past. Lynch only lightly touches upon the show’s cliffhanger ending — if you haven’t seen Twin Peaks and have plans to see it, stop reading now — instead opting to focus on the events leading up to the murder of Laura Palmer. Risky? Certainly. Frustrating? Probably, though the news that another season is on the way has likely rendered much frustration obsolete. Fire Walk with Me brings the almost mythical figure of Laura Palmer to life, and does so brilliantly.
Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is a high school student plagued by an evil spirit known as BOB (Frank Silva), who appears in her uncanny visions and demented dreams. In Twin Peaks, she has already been killed by BOB and Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called in to find the then unknown culprit. Here, the events leading up to Palmer’s death are explored in detail, including her drug addled experiences and her father Leland’s (Ray Wise) own demonic possession.
The Chester-Sam preamble exudes a classic Lynchian essence, lulling us into a false sense of security from the get-go. Life in Deer Meadow looks, sounds and feels worse than life in Twin Peaks: the coffee at the local sheriff’s station is outdated; the owner of the diner is old, abrasive and foul-toothed, far removed from Norma Jennings; and there are no food specials either. Not even a sliver of cherry pie. You begin to miss spending time in Twin Peaks, its oddness and peculiarity and vitality in short supply. And we never truly revisit that kooky town.
Coop appears under false pretences — despite captaining the television show, he’s only a bit part player here (primarily due to MacLachlan’s return worries). Angelo Badalamenti’s twangy score reverberates as Ron Garcia’s cinematography hones in on that recognisable welcome sign, but it soon becomes obvious that Fire Walk with Me is a different animal to Lynch’s small screen work. It is Laura’s story, which is by and large miserable and horrifying. “Do you think that if you were falling in space you would slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?” best friend Donna muses. Laura assuredly hits back, “Faster and faster”. That’s her predicament. Spiralling without a harness.
Sheryl Lee’s range is impressive. Her demeanour effortlessly switches from dreamy, to seductive, to ponderous, to deranged, to hysterical, depending on BOB’s stranglehold at any given moment. Despite knowing the finality of her arc, a dramatic heft still remains and that is largely due to Lee’s sympathetic portrayal. We want her to survive for moral reasons, but also because we know her interactions with Coop et al would be compelling and fun (granted, her survival would render Twin Peaks pointless in the first place). Enya-esque music adds to Laura’s angelic qualities, the dulcet and delicate inflections indicating an impending loss of innocence.
Performances are over the top at times, a by-product of Lynch’s soap opera brand. The director tones down any potential melodrama though, instead seeking out scares. And there are some properly terrifying moments; at one point BOB hides awkwardly in Laura’s room, poised in a corner behind a chest of drawers. The scene is actually a jump scare, but one done well — it chills for longer because BOB’s uncouth posture and uncontrollable lunacy can do little else but leave a lasting impression. Frank Silva has always infused the Twin Peaks landscape with an edge-of-your-seat mania, and he steps it up another notch here.
The persiflage-like comedic oddities that richly emboldened the television show aren’t around. They certainly wouldn’t fit with Fire Walk with Me’s dark themes, but you do miss them. In their place is a mountain of debauchery, nudity and swearing. A seemingly everlasting Pink Room (a strip club of sorts) scene reflects this grimness. The floor resembles a destitute beach, with fag ash for sand and beer bottles for seaweed. Loud music means we need subtitles to understand what various characters are saying — sound is used efficiently throughout the film to amp up tension. It drags on a bit too long, but the room’s red, flashing textures do imitate hell and effectively mirror Laura’s harrowing plunge.
To the filmmaker’s credit, an air of horror lingers over every second of the movie. It helps that a pre-existing television show has already laid the groundwork as far as worldbuilding goes, and therefore all that remains is to plug holes with the correct tonal density. Lynch opts for a dark, thick substance that stinks of constant dread. He is essentially unpacking the mindset of a psychopath. As Leland Palmer succumbs to the nefarious tendencies of BOB, his fatherliness drains. He increasingly exudes a crazed Jack Torrance vibe; one dinner scene in particular communicates unbridled domestic terror.
This is also Leland’s story, but viewed from Laura’s external perspective. Lynch takes us through his psychopathic functionality, the primal loss of control, where what was once unlawful becomes lawful. In a way, this type of destabilised humanity can only be explained by inexplicable mysticism, an aspect explored with greater verve in Twin Peaks. Laura, able to fend off BOB’s corruptness but not his presence, faces a different type of corruption: she becomes a drug and sex addict, someone haunted by immorality.
If you are well-versed in the television show you’ll know where the film is headed, yet Lynch manages to frame the ending in a somewhat positive manner without jeopardising the preceding terror. Relief is the overarching emotion, perhaps a fitting tonal precursor to Twin Peaks. These moments of respite are uncommon in Fire Walk with Me, a genuinely underrated horror gem. That’s a lot of garmonbozia.
Images credit: IMP Awards, Welcome to Twin Peaks
Images copyright (©): New Line Cinema
16 thoughts on “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)”
Very nice Adam, enjoyed reading that! I watched it again (fairly) recently after also rewatching the TV series and agree Fire Walk With Me is underrated; I don’t think it’s brilliant but it’s certainly far better than the reviews at the time suggested. Also far darker and more disturbing than the original series, and arguably Lynch’s most terrifying film.
Me too Stu! It’s certainly more morbid than the show. I guess given the subject matter it has to channel darkness more than cheeriness, though I did sort of miss the funny antics. Critics seemed to hate it at the time; I was reading about the dreadful reaction at Cannes (which, in fairness, isn’t always the best gauge). Cheers mate!
Well, well said. This was outrageously overlooked and mistreated by critics et al. Another Lynch classic.
I can only assume most critics were expecting a movie version of the TV show, but given the subject matter I think Lynch gets the darker tone spot on.
Wonderful write-up! I’ve always felt that FWWM was truly underrated. The ending is so heartbreaking!
Thanks Anna! Yeah, the immediate critical reception was well off the mark. Really sad ending – the fact that you can see/feel her relief in dying makes it even sadder.
These Twin Peaks posts made me rather nostalgic. I didn’t watch all the episodes but when this aired back in my home country Indonesia, we only had a few channels so any Western series is most welcomed. I used to think Kyle MacLachlan was so hot, ahah.
Have you seen them all since? I love the Twin Peaks world. It manages to be peculiar and witty and overly dramatic and scary all at the same time. Brilliant to watch and dissect. Ha, Lynch certainly gathered a good-looking cast!
It’s such an odd little village of people who are fans\devotees of this work of Lynch’s, and it’s always fun to come across another little ode.
I’m excited and nervous in equal measure about the new season! Hopefully all the production woes have been settled.
Good review – I love the comparison of the Pink Room floor to “a destitute beach, with fag ash for sand and beer bottles for seaweed” and you’ve taught me a new word: “persiflage.”
Fire Walk With Me is such a unique, eerie film, and somehow knowing its relationship to the show only makes it stranger like a nightmare veision of the series, or the vice versa: the reality behind the series’ uneasy but slightly soothing dream (shades of Mulholland Drive). If you are in the mood for more FWWM, I recently created a video essay exploring reasons the film has been both praised and savaged over time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27_9L6YFHrs. It’s also part of a larger video series on the show and film,called Journey Throgh Twin Peaks, which you might enjoy. Look forward to reading your other Twin Peaks reviews.
Thanks Joel, appreciate the comments! You’ve hit the nail on the head regarding the film and TV show complimenting each other through a strange and nightmarish familiarity.
I’ll definitely be checking out your video essay!