As mainstream cinema increasingly retreats into a sanitized world of infantilism, it’s only appropriate that independent films should grow rawer. The late 1990s saw over-the-toppers like HAPPINESS, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE HEART OF THE WORLD and many others emerge from this realm, as well as the 1996 Canadian film KISSED. A powerful, if seriously flawed, study of necrophilia, KISSED is a daring and exciting film that deserves a wider audience.
KISSED has not been widely screened outside Canada (for that matter, it hasn’t been seen much within Canada!). Its sole US exposure was a very brief 1997 theatrical run and then an equally scaled-down video/DVD release a few years later. This could be due to the disturbing subject matter or the fact that the market for subversive indie fare was all-but flooded in the late nineties. Whatever the reason, KISSED is a prime example of a worthy film being unjustly ignored, an occurrence all too common these days.
That’s a shame, because seen from a purely technical standpoint the film is superb (definitely unusual for a Canadian production). Special mention is due to Gregory Middleton’s evocative photography and in particular the performance of Molly Parker in the lead. Fully up to the challenges of creating a thoughtful, sympathetic character in a severely demanding role, Parker keeps the film afloat even when the script doesn’t.
From her earliest days, Sandra has been obsessed with death. Thankfully, the writers avoid easy answers for this–the script makes it clear that she isn’t on some sort of power trip, and she certainly isn’t a murderer. Rather, Sandra has an intense desire for transcendence, expressed in her own words as “crossing over.” Flashbacks detail her childhood activities, which include collecting dead animals for “special” burials. A young friend even assists her for a time, until said companion witnesses Sandra’s peculiar burial rights and runs away. Undaunted, she continues to indulge her obsession, and in her late teens lands a job as an embalmer’s assistant. Inevitably, she takes to sexually violating the bodies.
It’s at this point that the story enters a more conventional, and hence, weaker, arena, introducing a live love interest into Sandra’s life. Predictably, her newfound beau doesn’t approve of Sandra’s on-the-job activities, but she, in the grip of her all-consuming obsession, finds herself powerless to stop. From the start, this unconvincing romance threatens to knock the story off course, and the patently ridiculous outcome derails it entirely.
Throughout, first time writer/director Lynne Stopkewich (a former production designer) maintains a quietly disturbing atmosphere. Never less than compelling, the film lures us inexorably into Sandra’s world, staunchly avoiding horror-movie cliches. Those expecting overt grue will be disappointed.
Of course, therein lie the film’s problems in attracting audiences. KISSED seems far too refined and subtle for the hardcore horror crowd, yet too morbid in its approach for everyone else. It can stand as a dispiriting lesson for tomorrow’s filmmakers: it is possible to make a film without compromise, but don’t expect anyone to see it.
Director: Lynne Stopkewich
Producers: Dean English, Lynne Stopkewich
Executive Producer: John Pozer
Screenplay: Angus Fraser, Lynne Stopkewich
Cinematography: Gregory Middleton
Editors: John Pozer, Peter Roeck, Lynne Stopkewich,
Cast: Molly Parker, Peter Outerbridge, Jay Brazeau