The metaphor might be obvious, but the careful way Kissing Game goes about unpacking it makes for a slow-burn but quietly effective little thriller.
This review of Kissing Game (Netflix) is spoiler-free.
The easiest way to describe Kissing Game is like a slightly tamer response to David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 supernatural horror It Follows. In that well-regarded film, a supernatural entity pursued teenagers after sexual encounters. In this six-part Brazilian series, new on Netflix today, whatever entity or virus is blackening the lips of various precocious youngsters in a tight-knit, isolated ranching community is less picky; it’s going after everyone who simply locked lips at an ill-advised party.
The metaphor for teenage misbehavior is obvious — if you don’t do your homework and eat your cereal, and instead go out to get high and laid, well… you might die horribly and go viral while doing it. The omniscient presence of social media is another obvious theme in Kissing Game. In just the first episode, we see the first victim, Bel, become the talk of the town, while her classmates speculate about what might have happened to her via messaging apps, and amateur sleuths round-up interviewees for their own investigations on the ‘Gram. Bel mysteriously pops into a live-stream despite being hospitalized and isolated. And she’s far from the only victim.
Kissing Game is patient in unveiling its mystery; the point is, largely, how it impacts this bizarre community, where the cow is sacred enough to emblazon the hot pink school uniforms, and detention involves mucking out the stables. An old, Luddite world has been infiltrated by modernity; the all-seeing-eye of social media, the pass-it-on cooties of viral video, the irresponsible, immoral party-hard lifestyle of urbanites and all the promiscuous excess that comes with it. The series is largely about this cultural clash, but it’s drenched in eerie small-town mystery and keeps its cards close to its chest for as long as it can. With a tight six-episode season, this is a smart way of keeping an audience engaged without belaboring the point too much, although the way the show makes its points, which is often several times over for emphasis, can be grating.
In a quiet weekend during which Cursed is occupying almost all of the limelight, Kissing Game represents a low-key, quietly effective little diversion, easily-binged, and with a darker tint to its teen-centric (and pleasingly progressive) horror story. A recommendation might be a bit strong since it’s a weird, not particularly mainstream show, but a cautious suggestion to have a look in its direction won’t hurt anyone. Pass it on.