Review: Twisted

Horror-comedy films have been in existence for decades, but the genre only started to see a resurgence in Singapore last year, with Where Got Ghost? and The Ghost Must be Crazy being released months apart from each other. Unlike those two films, however, Chai Yee Wei’s Twisted shows a keen understanding of how to use both genres to complement each other, when so many purported horror-comedies wind up numbing the genuinely suspenseful moments by dialling up to excess the comedic mood.

Twisted carefully escapes this ditch by the sly use of black comedy; its humour here is not at the expense of its chill-inducing moments. Rather, there are moments that are genuinely terrifying that still rather curiously push you to laughter, especially in the first and third segments. The horror and the humour are inextricably bound together; the key, Chai understands, is to keep the audience laughing at their own fears. He succeeds in doing so at pivotal points in the film, especially in the third segment (e.g. the scene of the exorcism ritual).

That is not to say the film is consistently frightening. In fact, the scares engineered by Chai are actually of a hit-and-miss quality – some violently startle you, while some are, for better or worse, unintentionally funny.

Twisted is made up of three segments, all sharing a very tenuous connection, à la Chungking Express, with narratives that never really overlap, and if you happen to not pay attention, the link between all three segments will be lost on you. The first part features comedian Mark Lee in one of his best performances to date, playing – what else?- a gangster who peddles drugs. Lee shines in roles of this mould because he happens to be just playing himself, but his performance in this movie is a notch above above because it allows to be himself in an outrageously over-the-top fashion. He winds up killing his pregnant girlfriend in an accident, and she –what else? – returns to haunt him. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but still ridiculously entertaining to see Mark don the rims of his car wheels as armour. Yet this segment also happens to have some of the afore-mentioned unintentionally funny scenes, like the one with Mark Lee's character in a struggle with the ghost of his girlfriend. It winds up being more funny than scary.

Chai does some nimble balancing between humour and horror in the third segment, where Hong Kong actress Zhu Mi Mi plays the mother of a possessed girl who enlists a pair con-men exorcists to expel the demon from her daughter. She wears a creepy blank expression across her face that accentuates her character’s coldness. This segment ends up being the funniest, with the exorcist duo serving up a riot of laughs.

The weakest segment is the second one, which revolves around a pair of air stewards, played by Randall Tan and Calvin Soh, who try to get fresh with their colleagues, played by Tracy Lee and Linda Liao. Things do not go as planned, and one thing escalates to another, resulting in tragedy. Even though the writing for all three segments isn’t fantastic, the plot in the second one comes almost close to being non-existent. You just have to leave your expectations of coherence back home in order to enjoy this one. I suspect the weak story in this segment is why Chai employs a MTV-ish wham-bam! style editing, using a series of very quick cuts to try to make the events in this segment link up better.

Though the editing doesn’t actually quite cover up for the lack of a strong story, it does emphasize the film’s theme of karma. In employing this brand of dizzying editing, Chai accelerates time: we don’t hang around waiting for something to happen; the film jumps from one event to another, generating a cause-and-effect like rhythm to the film (and the second segment in particular), and the ideas of retribution and consequence are foregrounded. The downside - which is apparent in the second segment, not so in the first and third – is that with no mellower moments to puncture the constant frenetic atmosphere, the ‘highs’ in this segment – and there are a lot of them – don’t seem to be as suspenseful as they should be.

While the film does have many flaws, I respect this film just because of its sheer ambition. Anytime a local director makes a commercial effort without trying to pander to the lowest common denominator (i.e. having a smidgen of ambition and trying to put forth ideas in their films), I rejoice. Twisted may have weak stories for its segments, but as a whole the film features strong performances from its cast members, and was adroitly executed to accentuate the theme of karma, elevating it to a morality tale on being responsible for one’s actions. A quirky horror-comedy with a soul.
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