Kissed (Canada, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Sexual taboos come in all shapes and forms -- bestiality, pedophilia, incest -- but none creates a more vivid image than that of necrophilia. So, when I say that Kissed is the character study of a necrophiliac, recognize that this film is intended for a very select audience. Anyone who feels incapable of watching a movie that deals frankly with this subject (even though it is, relatively speaking, tastefully approached) should steer clear of Kissed. Director Lynne Stopkewich's feature is for adventurous movie-goers only.

Of course, this isn't the first motion picture to broach this "forbidden" subject, but it approaches the material in a far more serious and compassionate fashion than anything I can remember. And, as fundamentally unappealing as the concept of having sex with a corpse may be, Kissed manages the considerably difficult task of humanizing a character involved in this practice. As a result, Kissed isn't nearly as difficult or disturbing a film as one might suppose from a plot description.

The central figure in this movie is Sandra Larson (Molly Parker), a young woman who, by her own admission, has "always been fascinated by death -- the smell of it, the feel of it, and the stillness of it." When we first meet Sandra, she's a lonely adolescent (played by Natasha Morley) living her pre-teen years in an unnamed part of Canada during the early 1960s. Sandra isn't like other girls, though. While they play Spin the Bottle, she goes outside and holds ritual funerals for the small, dead animals she finds. Part of her private burial ceremony includes rubbing the tiny corpse all over her own flesh.

By the time she reaches college, Sandra has obtained a job working at a funeral home. She takes classes in embalming, even though she believes that cadavers can still feel what's being done to them. Her fascination with death leads her to engage in covert sexual activities with some of the more attractive corpses in her care. When she meets a (living) man, Matt (Peter Outerbridge), who is fascinated by her fetish, she tries unsuccessfully to explain what it's like to him, calling it a transforming spiritual experience that's "glorious... overwhelming... and addictive." Even though Matt doesn't fully understand Sandra's reasons, curiosity drives him to do what he can to insinuate himself into her private world.

Playing a role in a movie of this nature is a risky proposition for an actor, so, for that reason alone, one has to admire the courage of both Molly Parker and Peter Outerbridge. It helps, of course, that both present entirely believable performances and that they develop an effective rapport. Parker, who bears a passing resemblance to American actress Moira Kelly, gives a slightly deeper reading than her co-star. She portrays Sandra as a loner whose unique perspective about life and death sets her apart from everyone else, except, perhaps, Matt.

The hallmark of Kissed is its daring. At its heart, however, this movie isn't really trying to shock or revolt its audiences. It's telling a tender love story that just happens to include some exceptionally unconventional and controversial elements. What Stopkewich does best here is to consistently avoid making the necrophilia gratuitous or exploitative. Where she doesn't fully succeed is in conveying the spiritual rapture of Sandra's secret experiences -- the use of white light, for example, comes across as corny and unconvincing. Sandra may have been transported to another plane, but the director didn't get me to share the trip.

A great deal more could be written about this film, since, even at only eighty minutes in length, it never fails to challenge viewers. For those who have trouble getting into, or dealing with, the primary subject matter, there are some interesting side issues. I certainly learned a great deal about what goes on behind the scenes at a funeral parlor. Nevertheless, for anyone capable of keeping an open mind, Kissed offers an unflinching perspective of a sweet, troubled love affair and the two warped individuals trapped in it.

Kissed (Canada, 1996)

Run Time: 1:20
U.S. Release Date: 1997-04-11
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1