'Kissing Game' Review: Drugs, nihilism and a mysterious virus make this Netflix thriller stand out
Amid the pandemic lockdown, streaming platforms have become the storehouse of zombie thrillers. Not all that long ago, Netflix Brazil presented to us their own remake of Charlie Brooker's 'Deadset' titled 'Reality Z' and now joining the slate of the genre is Netflix Brazil's second original, 'Kissing Game' aka 'Boca-a-Boca'. It sounds lie your regular teen drama, a name raunchy enough to flock bored teens to the streaming platform for an easy Friday binge. But while the satirical coldness of 'Reality Z' isn't prevalent in the Esmir Filho thriller, there's an in general nihilism and rebellion sprinkled throughout the six-part miniseries, that burns slow enough to keep one on the edge about what exactly the source of this virus, and who the real villain is.
A sheer mirror of the social issues plaguing a ranch-dependent rural town, 'Kissing Game' puts under the microscope more than just the dangerous virus that starts attacking teenagers after a night of drugs and raving gone wrong. It tackles social media and the adult society's response to a crisis that the world is now all too familiar with, through a story that even though not exactly worth a must-watch recommendation, does deserve its due nod for being so strangely unique.
The story kicks off with the free-spirited Bel dragging her relatively introverted best friend Fran (Iza Moreira) to a local rave in the village on the outskirts of their town. Soon after, Bel is traumatized by a growing numbness in her body and a dark bruise around her mouth. She gets admitted to the local hospital but nobody can figure out just what is afflicting her. Bel's situation worsens as she turns into what can be labeled as this show's version of zombies, who somewhat glow in the dark. At least their eyes and veins do. It is soon revealed that the disease was contracted from the rave and everybody is at risk. Why? Because of the titular game of course; Bel kissed a stranger at the party and thus arose what they keep calling a 'kissing orgy'. Everybody kissed everybody and it's a lot of making out under neon lights and against slow-mo transcendental music. Sadly, as aesthetic as the scenes were probably meant to be this whole lot of kissing becomes hard to overlook.
But once you're able to overlook it, Filho and his cast of what looks like seasoned actors create a fluid web of secrets and mysteries, as they indulge in seeking answers to questions their parents want to stay blind to. Social media works its charm at exposing all the nitty-gritty of the disease and how one of their own contracted it. Soon it becomes a story of outcasts and rebellion as teenagers do what they do best and both overexaggerate and demonize people who don't pander to their silly mockery of the disease. There's also an ongoing mystery about the school principal's daughter that is revealed only at the end of the penultimate episode and surprisingly enough - there's a cure - or an antidote to living with this virus, because get this - it targets teenagers the worse because they are most prone to suppressing their feelings.
As the story progresses, people flock to natural cures and apothecaries in the wild as a unique amalgamation of the village life and the city coming together to find a cure to the spreading epidemic - perhaps a commentary on how instead of outcasting, compassion and support should be the tone in today's times. Filho also notices the power and privileged enjoyed by the rich as they continue to exploit the not-so-privileged in the name of family and economy whenever it is convenient for them. The rebellion comes from the teenagers who just want to have fun, smoking up and getting laid - something their very religious society vehemently condemns, especially if they are gay. Bullying and hate crimes shine through as well, binding together all the contributing factors that strive to divide the society at a time when they all must come together, and go back to their roots to find peace and help. And somehow all of this blends together to make for a thought-provoking, if not compelling watch.
In its own way, 'Kissing Game' is reminiscent of the 2014 horror, 'It Follows', where people were being targetted for having sex. The Brazilian thriller is also a funny reminder for breaking social distancing norms and works best for people who 'don't enjoy drinking other people's saliva', as character Alex Nero (Caio Horowicz) puts it. Yet it is the narrative being that from a teen's point of view that strikes the most. Fran, a possibly closeted lesbian battling her own reserved trauma of watching her twin die at the age of nine, is both mature and vulnerable at the same time. As her mother reflects while looking over an unconscious Fran lying in isolation at the hospital, "I knew this one would cry only when she had to." It is these touching moments, the desperation of family's doing their utmost to save their children, and the consideration for teens raising an alarm that strikes a chord. More than god complex, these kids are driven by the knowledge of apathy their parents are known to possess. So it's no wonder they take matters in their own hands, trying to find a cure for the plaguing virus.
'Kissing Game' is now available for streaming on Netflix.