Inspired by true events, psychological thriller "A Kiss and a Promise" revolves around an unusual small-town Ontario household that harbors a serial killer.

Inspired by true events, psychological thriller “A Kiss and a Promise” revolves around an unusual small-town Ontario household that harbors a serial killer. Philip Guzman’s film offers plenty of intriguing elements, even if the central characters eventually feel too underexplored to fully satisfy. Nonetheless, this polished feature looks like a good candidate for cable and other small-screen format exposures.

Script by helmer and lead thesp Mick Rossi gradually reveals the protags’ odd domestic arrangement: Married couple Samantha (Natasha Gregson Wagner) and David Beck (Rossi) run a bed and breakfast where their only long-term tenant is Charlie (Sean Power), a bull-spouting alleged author who doesn’t seem to have gotten anything published and is way behind on his rent. But he’s tolerated — albeit very thinly by Sam — because he’s also the lover of David, who doubtless enjoys the attentions of two mates who’d rather not be sharing him.

But David has a secret life even they don’t know about: Periodically, he goes for a drive and picks up a hitchhiker, hires a prostitute or abducts someone off the street — in any case, a woman who ends up strangled. These scenes are effectively harrowing without being exploitative; Rossi is creepily convincing as a sociopath who assures his victims he won’t hurt them right up until he kills them, then apologizes to their corpses as if such actions were beyond his control.

That’s a truckload of perversity for one pic to carry. To Guzman’s credit, “Kiss” de-emphasizes its lurid aspects, instead aiming for atmospheric mystery in which character layers keep getting peeled back to reveal often-unpleasant behavioral surprises. (The revelation of where suddenly flush Charlie gets his cash, however, stretches credulity.)

Still, there’s a sense that these complicated people remain too sketchily explored in the end. Banter between vet thesps Patrick Bergin and Robert Miano as a couple of police detectives on the case doesn’t make their scenes any less rote, and some overly schematic montages mar the film’s general restraint. Result is two-thirds of the way to being an exceptional offbeat suspenser, good enough to grip attention but not quite enough to leave a lasting impression.

Perfs are solid, as are technical and design contributions, notably from editor-cinematographer Philip Roy and composer David M. Frost.

A Kiss and a Promise

Canada

Production

A Lab4 Prods. in association with Rozman Pictures production. (International sales: Moonstone Entertainment, Studio City, Calif.) Produced by Lenny Bitondo. Executive producers, Bitondo, Mike Guzzo. Co-producers, Mick Rossi, Phillip Guzman, Philip Roy. Directed by Phillip Guzman. Screenplay, Mick Rossi, Guzman.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Philip Roy; editor, Roy; music, David M. Frost; art director, Meredith Woodley; sound, Jeff Magat; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Michael McDonald; assistant director, Hyman Richards; casting, Larissa Mair. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, March 17, 2011. (In Cinequest, Dallas film festivals.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Mick Rossi, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Sean Power, Patrick Bergin, Robert Miano, Sile Bermingham, Danielle Watling, Brian Foyster, Lisa Ciara, Samantha Farrow.

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