Lynne Stopkewich’s “Kissed,” an unusual portrait of a young woman’s obsession with corpses, marks the impressive feature debut of a new Canuck directing voice , and features a captivating performance by newcomer Molly Parker. Stopkewich has managed the unlikely feat of making a film about necrophilia that is neither a black comedy nor a horror outing. Rather, she has crafted a poetic, provocative love story about sex, romance and death that is surprisingly endearing.
But the last 20 minutes are less engrossing than the opening section, and the lack of dramatic force in the finale makes for a pic that seems a tad slight. “Kissed” will attract a lot of interest from adventurous indie buyers and, with the right marketing, could reach specialized auds. Selling a film built around a woman lusting after a bunch of dead guys will present some unique challenges, however.
Based on a short story by Canadian writer Barbara Gowdy, pic opens with the 12-year-old Sandra (Natasha Morley) taking part in various bizarre funeral rites for dead animals she’s found, including sparrows and chipmunks. Several years later, the adult Sandra (Parker) delivers flowers one day to the local funeral parlor, and it’s a case of love at first sight. She decides she has to work there. The funeral home is run by the spooky, soft-spoken Mr. Wallis (Jay Brazeau), who isn’t above a little necrophilia himself. Soon enough, Sandra is smooching with a cadaver in the back of the hearse, and she then tells Mr. Wallis that she’d love to study embalming. The ensuing instruction from the funeral director provides one of pic’s grosser scenes.
Sandra then meets a medical student, Matt (Peter Outerbridge), who is fascinated by her, and he becomes increasingly intrigued by her obsessive relationship with dead men. In fact, Matt is jealous of her hanky-panky with all these corpses, and he starts clipping obituaries from the local papers and quizzing Sandra on her funeral-home liaisons. The relationship continues to deteriorate as it becomes clear that Sandra is much more interested in getting it on with men in the throes of rigor mortis than with a living-breathing young guy like Matt.
Stopkewich shows an assured hand with the controversial material, never stooping to sensationalism, and she has crafted an innovative, hard-to-forget meditation on a difficult subject. The strength of “Kissed” is that Stopkewich makes Sandra’s erotic passion for cold corpses seem like something more meaningful than a simple fetish, and the pic subtly draws the viewer into this twisted universe. Stopkewich and Angus Fraser’s script lightens the potentially heavy load with a sprinkle of black humor throughout.
Parker dominates the film with her sexy, moody screen presence; her enchanting performance helps elicit empathy for the character. Outerbridge is less memorable as the luckless b.f., and Brazeau plays the funeral home boss with just the right off-kilter style.
Original score by Don MacDonald is suitably haunting, with ethereal vocal tracks that are mixed up with a number of folkie pop tunes by Canadian artists. Gregory Middleton’s lensing maintains the atmospheric tone with beautifully shot , often dark interiors.