When his wife is accidentally killed a grief-stricken young man resorts to unnatural science to resurrect her, with horrific consequences.
Or, to put it another way, “Wife Sematary”. Actually I’m being rather flippant there because Ken Winkler’s KISS THE ABYSS – while lacking originality – is a well-made, intelligent and decently-acted low budget horror flick. It’s from that sub-genre of films which make an effort to consider what the practicalities of undeath might be. Not only that but it is one of an increasingly rare band of modern day films where the story is propelled by love and grief rather than by vengeance.
Mark (Scott Wilson – no, not that one) and Lesley (Nicole Moore – no, definitely not that one) are a young couple who are happily married and very much in love. Unfortunately they live in a rough part of town with neighbours from hell and one day Mark is obliged to intervene when he sees Bruce (deliciously vile Ronnie Gene Blevins) violently assaulting his girlfriend. Later that night, armed with a baseball bat, Bruce forces his way into Mark and Lesley’s home but before anyone knows what’s going on Lesley is lying motionless on the floor with a sickening head wound.
I should say at this point that this opening section of the movie is intercut with initially inexplicable footage of Mark being driven out into the desert by two unknown men. Gradually it becomes clear that the men are Lesley’s father and brother. The father, we learn, is a high-ranking military officer and all-round badass who in typically militaristic fashion has decided, upon learning of the tragedy, that a solution may lie in an ultra-top secret abandoned research project.
So salvation, or rather resurrection, comes at the hands of loathsome redneck Gus (played with lip-smacking relish by Douglas Bennett) at his desert shack / laboratory. With only a pause to warn Mark that he operates a strict “no returns policy”, Gus then works his miracle. Revealing what happens next would be to give away too much of the plot but suffice it to say that Mark’s problems are only just beginning.
Having said that, if you’ve seen PET SEMATARY or DEATHDREAM or have ever read the classic short story THE MONKEY’S PAW then you’ll pretty much know what happens next. And it ain’t pretty. What it is though, as well as horrifying, is actually rather moving. While the method they eventually employ is ludicrous, it’s easy to believe that relatives in the early stages of a powerful grief such as this would actually contemplate how to bring the recently departed back to life. Furthermore, we’re also invited to sympathise with born again Lesley whose experience of life after death is, ironically, not something you’d wish upon your worst enemy, let alone a loved one.
It’s this contemplative mood which sets KISS THE ABYSS apart from more routine fare. In fact I’d go as far as to say that the film it reminded me of most is Bill Gunn’s cult classic GANJA & HESS, which also takes a cerebral look at the disease called life. However, that’s not say that KISS THE ABYSS doesn’t deliver on the horror: in the second half in particular director Ken Winkler really ratchets up the gore and delivers a superb climax out at Gus’s place.
The acting is better than the standard for low budget horror and Winkler deserves credit for this as well as his attempts to play with the narrative flow. Scott Wilson and Nicole Moore make for an engaging and believable couple and as is usually the case in the better horror films there are a couple of excellent turns among the supporting cast. Unfortunately, the film is disappointingly ordinary in visual terms and the dialogue too never rises much above the mundane. Don’t let that put you off though: beneath its derivative exterior there is a lot going on in this movie that is a challenging and enjoyable experience.
Kiss the Abyss (2010)