A gentle song called “Gone with the Clouds” drifts through Yee-wei Chai’s feature Twisted. It’s one of many connections shared amid the film’s three intertwining stories. The song – sweet and pure in essence – is an ironic herald of terrible things about to occur when a cast of loathsome criminals face otherworldly retribution.

To describe Chai’s film as a dark spiritual anthology probably won’t do him or the film any favors. A pretentious description doesn’t prepare the viewer for the downright zany portrayals of carnage that appear throughout the film’s three interconnected tales. It’s a story of karma and fate told from multiple viewpoints separated into distinct narrative segments. Technically, the film is an anthology, but the individual parts merge into a cohesive whole with overlapping characters, objects, and themes. It’s a storytelling technique utilized effectively in films like The Signal (2007) and Amer (2009). It’s not the horror genre’s answer to Paul Haggis’ Crash (2004), but it does share structural connectivity with the Oscar-winning film more than a traditional anthology like Creepshow (1982).

Without delving too much into the plot of each individual segment, we find a central core of shady characters targeted for supernatural punishment for transgressions against innocent victims. The first story involves a sleazy drug dealer (Mark Lee) who, after a terrible car crash with his pregnant ex-girlfriend, finds himself in a life or death battle with demonic forces. The second act  is the bridge, and concerns two predatory flight attendants who get more than they bargained for when they give incapacitating drugs to a couple of young women. The film’s showpiece is the final installment, which finds a redemptive con man who agrees to perform an exorcism on a young girl as a means of atoning for past sins.

As a meditation on fate, Chai’s film draws heavily on Buddhist beliefs of reincarnation and karma. The film is populated with deplorable characters who continue their horrible treatment of others despite literal warning signs from the heavens. Their accumulation of bad karma reaches a saturation point, and ghostly demons manifest to collect the dues owed to the universe. One character, when faced with the demonic embodiment of his misdeeds, resorts to a Buddhist chant of “Amitabha” as consolation. Another looks to honor his father after years of financially ripping off naïve victims. Despite their last-ditch efforts, things don’t end well for them or Chai’s other severely flawed characters.

There’s a cartoonish quality to Twisted that will have viewers snickering as they wince at depictions of cannibalism, demonic possession, and attempted rape. One of the film’s centerpieces is a character fashioning a crude suit of armor from the expensive hubcaps of his tricked out sports car. There are several running gags, including a an Indian father and son who make hilarious cameos in every segment, and a chronically masturbating old man who pops up in unexpected places – both flourishes exuding a surreal, yet playful tone. Violent sequences are set to classical music compositions, and play out like scenes from old Warner Brothers’ cartoons. The absurdity is a refreshing counterbalance to the spiritual foundation established by Chai.

Twisted comes full circle with an epilogue that takes us back to one of its earliest characters. The film’s circular structure stands as testimony to Chai’s Buddhist base. The initial tag line asks, “is it karma or just bad luck”, a question never completely addressed by Chai. Instead, he shrouds his true beliefs in ambiguity. His characters, on the other hand, discover that perfunctory soul cleaning is not a guarantor of good fortune, whether or not luck, karma, or fate has anything to do with it.

– By Chris Hallock