Part romance, part road movie and part ghost story, Kiss of Life is a strong but inconsistent debut feature from British director Emily Young. It’s the story of a woman who – after being killed in a car accident – finds herself stuck in limbo whilst her husband, unaware of her death, races from war-torn Eastern Europe to be with her. In telling this tale, Young attempts to weave two very different stories together, and is not always successful. It becomes hard to care about one character or the other as you continually flit between stories.
On one hand you have the family living in England. Helen floats in limbo whilst the rest of her family deals with the grief of her death. As Helen is reduced to being a spirit in her own home, she recalls previous times with husband John. Here, Young is attempting to wring emotional mileage out of Helen’s situation, but it never completely works. This partly because it takes too long for her to work out her situation (You were hit by a car, your kids or father can’t see you and are crying all the time. There’s a good chance you may be a ghost) and partly because it all feels slightly too manipulative. However, as Helen, Dapkunaite does a fine job and is given able support by David Warner as her father.
John’s story proves much more productive. Peter Mullan gives a wonderful performance as the father who will do anything to get back home. Hitching lifts with refugees or trying to find his way across deserted towns, his journey becomes not only a personal odyssey, but a document of the effect of war. It’s in these sections where the dramatic irony of his wifes death works so well. His desire to see her is countered by our knowledge of her death. Thus, his story is also tinged with an underlying sadness which culminates in an almost unbearably tragic scene in a deserted tower block as he continues his journey.
Kiss of Life contains many wonderful moments, but never quite coheres as a whole. Perhaps more suited to the small screen, it remains a confident debut from a director who will be worth keeping an eye on in the future.