It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"When life turns into death, I've seen bodies shining like stars,'' says Sandra, who tells her story in "Kissed.'' "Each of them has its own wisdom, innocence, happiness, grief. I see it.'' From early childhood, Sandra has been obsessed with dead things. She and a playmate would find dead birds and bury them, but then, "after dark I'd go back and give them a proper burial.'' In a ritual by flashlight, she rubs her body with the dead bird in what she calls "the anointment.'' In her late teens, working for a florist, she makes a delivery to a funeral home, absorbs the atmosphere and states simply, "I'd like to work here.'' The mortician is happy to show her around. Opening the door to the embalming room, he says with plump satisfaction, "This is where it all happens.'' Soon she is working there.
"Kissed'' is about a necrophiliac, but in its approach, it could be about spirituality or transcendence. Sandra, played with a grave intensity by Molly Parker, does things that are depraved by normal standards, but in her mind she is performing something like a sacrament. The dead are so lonely. When she comforts them with a farewell touch from the living, the room fills with light, and an angelic choir sings in orgasmic female voices.
"Kissed'' was, needless to say, one of the most controversial films at the Toronto and Sundance festivals. Mostly people talked about how Lynne Stopkewich, its co-writer and director, had gotten away with it. One would think there was no way to film this material without disgusting the audience--or, worse, making it laugh at the wrong times. Stopkewich does not disgust, and when there are laughs, she intends them (there is a quiet mordant humor trickling through the film). What is amazing, at the end, is that we feel some sympathy for Sandra, some understanding.
Humans seem to be hard-wired at an early age into whatever sexuality they eventually profess. There is little choice in the matter. Most are lucky enough to fall within the mainstream, but for those who are attracted to obscure fetishes, it is a question of acknowledging their nature, or denying themselves sexual fulfillment. Of course, some compulsions are harmful to others, and society rightly outlaws them; but the convenience of necrophilia, as the joke goes, is that it only requires one consenting adult.