By Jake Watt
22nd March 2020

Noir is probably my favourite genre to discuss (see: my recent review of 'Locusts'), because it is so complex and divisive. Have a squiz online and you will find hundreds of forums and discussion threads with people squabbling over what "noir" actually is. Is it a form of narrative? Is it stylistic? Is it American, or global? How many periods of noir are there? There is no end to the debate, but it's a fun one to have.

Ultimately, the term "film noir" is thrown around a lot to describe a great many films. Neo-noirs, film soleil and other such spin-offs and mutations are also used to describe endeavours in everything from a Coen Brothers film to recent movies like 'Dreamland', 'Destroyer', 'The Wild Goose Lake' and 'Motherless Brooklyn'.


The following is usually present in any criteria: moral uncertainty, betrayals, and femme fatales all delivered with excellent staccato, witty dialogue that ratatats back and forth between the players.

In 'Burning Kiss', a young stranger, Max Woods (Liam Graham, 'Hounds of Love'), arrives at the well-to-do home of a wheelchair-bound former detective, Edmond Bloom (a great Richard Mellick), and his meek daughter, Charlotte (Alyson Walker, also great) during a Perth heatwave. He's there to inform them that he was responsible for the death of Richard's wife, Juliette, six years prior via a hit-and-run incident, and hands over her necklace as evidence. It sounds a little like the setup for Sean Penn's 'The Crossing Guard', another tale loss, guilt, and revenge. Unfortunately for the noir schmuck of 'Burning Kiss', the Blooms aren't a run-of-the-mill family unit and everyone has something to hide. Max's attempt to unburden himself of guilt is met with a gun pointed at his face and then spirals into a series of manipulations and psychological games.

What's the story with Edmond and Charlotte's suss relationship? Why did Max wait so long to report the incident? What exactly is the deal with the murderous great white shark that appears as a newspaper headline and is later seen swimming in a backyard pool?

A lot of the time it could, of course, be a 40s noir, but its sprinkled with the hallucinatory freakiness that Oliver Stone produced in the 90s.

With noticeable nods to David Lynch's oeuvre (his neo-noir 'Blue Velvet' in particular), Robbie Studsor's 'Burning Kiss' is strange, a disorientating palimpsest of moods and eras and genres. It's an intensely 80s film in many ways: from the neon colour scheme to the idiosyncratic detective played by Christie Sistrunk. A lot of the time it could, of course, be a 40s noir, but its sprinkled with the hallucinatory freakiness that Oliver Stone produced in the 90s. There's also the Lynchian dream sequences, brief flashes into outer space and solar flares (bringing to mind Zak Hildtich's 'These Final Hours') and twisted sexuality. Additionally, the film features a cameo from Mario Bava's faceless assassin in 'Blood and Black Lace', a giallo film which, like 'Burning Kiss', features shadow-strewn baroque sets that are beautifully illuminated via brilliant colours (something also used to great effect in another recent Australian film, Priscilla Cameron's 'The Butterfly Tree').

Pulling these disparate elements together, the director keeps the film's engine running for the first hour, seemingly by force of will. 'Burning Kiss' is a huge melting pot of garish stylistic influences that, while never quite cohering, is riveting nonetheless.

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