Burning Kiss is making waves as one of the most unique and exciting films to come out of WA. We sat down with writer and director Robbie Studsor to chat about Burning Kiss, his inspirations, and what it was like filming a feature-length movie in Western Australia.
Feels like summer
Burning Kiss is a movie with West Australia baked into its DNA. In fact, Burning Kiss is an apt title for the film, given that it was inspired by the WA summer and a searing heatwave marred its production.
Perth director Robbie Studsor says Burning Kiss was born during ‘an unrelenting summer in the city of shark attacks and sunburn.’ This inspiration certainly shines through in the film, which has a sweaty, sun-drenched aesthetic in the vein of Blue Velvet. The movie could almost serve as an ad for Tourism WA, being packed with beautiful beach shots and fantastic desert landscapes.
Filming took place entirely in West Australia: in local locations like Scarborough Beach and Freo, as well as rural areas like Southern Cross and the Goldfields. When asked about the most gorgeous location they filmed in, Robbie had trouble narrowing it down, but he eventually settled on the extraordinary coastline around Mandurah and Rockingham.
“What better place to make a film like Burning Kiss than Perth? The sunniest capital city in the world.”
Burning Kiss uses the scorching WA summer as a metaphor for danger with the story of a fractured father-daughter relationship and the stranger who sets them on a collision course with tragedy — though it also shows us the beauty of heat, with picturesque beach and desert landscapes that can be found right on Perth’s doorstep.
Hot. Dangerous. Beautiful.
If those words don’t describe West Australia, we don’t know what does.
Murder-mystery flipped on its head
When asked to describe his debut feature film, director Robbie Studsor calls it a ‘hallucinogenic summer noir cocktail spiked with surrealism and suspense.’ Since that’s a bit of a mouthful, he’s coined his own term for it: acid noir.
As it turns out, acid noir couldn’t be a better label for the surreal thrill-ride that is Burning Kiss. A psychological thriller that warps the concept of detective noir and drowns it in colourful, pop-art imagery, Burning Kiss a unique and entertaining addition to WA’s burgeoning indie film scene.
Burning Kiss begins six years after the car crash that crippled detective Edmund Bloom (Richard Mellick) and killed his wife. Fueled by vengeance, Edmund has spent the 6 years since the hit and run desperately searching for his wife’s killer while being cared for by his submissive daughter Charlotte (Alyson Walker). All of Edmund’s hard work goes to waste when a broken and remorseful stranger named Max Woods (Liam Graham) confronts him, confesses to the crime, and begs for either forgiveness or punishment.
Unfortunately, six years of detective work has distorted Edmund’s motivation for catching the culprit. He no longer wants to see his wife’s killer brought to justice — he wants to catch the killer himself. How glorious would it be if Edmund could hunt down his wife’s murderer from the confines of his wheelchair? What a story that would be!
And so, Edmund puts a new plan into motion. With Charlotte’s help, Max will plant clues that reveal how he escaped the scene of the crime all those years ago, while Edmund solves the case in spectacular (and very public) fashion. But as Edmund’s scheme starts to unravel and long-buried secrets come to light, the man himself begins to spiral further and further out of control.
A neo-noir with a neon aesthetic
The unusual ‘reverse murder-mystery’ plot, compelling characters, and standout performances are only part of what makes Burning Kiss such a captivating experience. The film is also brimming with visual effects that are as colourful and trippy as they are absurd and surreal.
The heavily stylized imagery enhances the dangerous mood of the film and reflects the blurring of fantasy and reality that the characters are experiencing – or as Robbie so eloquently puts it: ‘Fact and fiction, the serious and the absurd, the introspective and the expressionistic, all refracting in the same kaleidoscope of colour and style.’
When asked what inspired him to mix a classic genre like noir with such strange and experimental imagery, Robbie replied: ‘It might have been reactionary in a way. There was this approach to the crime genre that kept happening in Australia, so I think I almost wanted to buck the trend of these realistic stories that focused on good guys and rites of passage. I thought, what if we did it within Australia and just went as far as we could in the other direction and made it really expressionistic and colorful and give it a pop-art feel.’
While Robbie wanted to try something new, he was never trying to escape his roots. In fact, he listed Aussie cult-classics like Wake in Fright, Chopper, and Hounds of Love as some of his biggest inspirations, alongside 60’s Eurothrillers like Purple Noon and experimental film-makers like Kenneth Anger.
The candy-soaked visuals make Burning Kiss a blast to watch, while forcing the viewer to question everything they’re seeing. They elevate the movie from a great Aussie crime flick, into one of the most must-see films of 2020 for fans of Australian cinema, and audiences around the globe.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic Burning Kiss will be missing out on its theatrical release, but you can still buy or rent it digitally from Apple TV, Fetch TV, Google Play or YouTube – and it’s available now!