We take a look at this 90’s film noir as it hits UK shelves today…
Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, The Boys from Brazil – if you’d written each of the novels from which those films were adapted, you’d have to be some kind of literary powerhouse. You’d be one of those writers, like Thomas Harris or Stephen King, who can barely get a novel out without them turning into a motion picture. You’d be Ira Levin, and your first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, would have been adapted to film twice, once in 1956, and then again in 1991.
It’s the 1991 version we’re looking at here, in time for its rerelease on DVD and Blu-Ray. The plot sees handsome, charming, and utterly sociopathic Jonathan Corliss, played by handsome, charming and slightly vapid Matt Dillon, offing blonde heiress Sean Young, before using her death to get close to her twin, brunette heiress sister Sean Young and her copper magnate father Max von Sydow. From there the plot plays out in predictably unpredictable fashion, with much in the way of suspenseful twists and twisty suspense, but there’s little here that truly shocks you, and there’s even less to get invested in. While von Sydow is such a veteran of this kind of material that he only has to appear on screen to lend a touch of borrowed grandeur to proceedings – the Force Awakens method – and Young is effective yet again in yet another rôle that’s part femme fatale, part damsel in distress, though one wishes more could have been made of her double rôle. But Dillon as the psycho killer displays neither the charm to make us buy him as a seducer, nor the presence to make us fear him as a villain. He stands in the right spots and says the right lines, as if he’s in a rehearsal, and leaves us longing for Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. And if we don’t feel much of anything at all when he’s on screen, then we don’t feel much at all about the picture as a whole.
The peak comes early when the first Sean Young is chucked from a rooftop, landing with a blood-spatter brutality that is terrifyingly unexpected in this type of picture. Beyond that point, director James Dearden encounters great difficulty in relating to the material. Everything promotional talks about the film as a neo-noir, presumably since the 1956 original was a bona fide film noir, but the superficial approach owes nothing to that set of conventions beyond a plot that was, by 1991, basically hackneyed. Instead, it’s handled with the workmanlike approach common to the erotic thrillers of the late-80s and early-90s. The genre includes relatives of this film, such as Dearden’s previous hit Fatal Attraction and the Ira Levin adaptation Sliver. About the only one of these pictures that really worked was the overblown Basic Instinct, freed from the burden of having to convince its audiences there was anything novel about the material. Occasionally, too, this film gets all sparky, just for a moment – having Young watch Vertigo on television is a nice little lampshading – but for the most part it’s content just to shepherd us through the pot until we reach the inevitable showdown in Jonathan Corliss’ childhood home, a convention shared between the erotic thriller and the slasher film. Young’s character cleverly conceals a knife, and then there’s much tussling and running and chasing. Tension should be high but, if we haven’t cared about the characters up to this point, there’s no reason to start now.
A Kiss Before Dying is now available on DVD in the UK, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!