by Hope Madden
It’s incredibly hard to make a film that feels fresh. Hell, it’s hard to get a film greenlit unless you can describe it to potential financers as a cross between something they’ve seen and something else they’ve seen. Most hope of originality is squashed early.
Writer/director Joe Marcantonio doesn’t exactly concern himself with originality in his feature debut, Kindred. He hopes a stellar cast and a thick, uneasy atmosphere can make up for some of his film’s predictability. For the most part, that does work.
Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) and her white boyfriend Ben (Edward Holcroft) intend to leave their isolated English village for Australia. Now it’s just telling Mum (Fiona Shaw, as formidable a presence as ever).
The first Sunday lunch with Mum and step-brother Thomas (Jack Lowden) effectively conveys all we need to know about the family dynamics, and Marcantonio tidily establishes a sense of dread that will only deepen as the moments pass until the final credits.
Charlotte, you see, is pregnant, and when Ben dies suddenly, Mum and Thomas offer hospitality that will quickly turn into an inescapable prison.
There are hints early in the film that perhaps Ben is more like his Mum—a bit controlling and manipulative, even if he doesn’t honestly realize it. This sets an intriguing conflict that will obviously balloon once Mum’s in charge.
It’s Rosemary’s Baby meets Get Out. See? Two outstanding movies that you may not want to see watered down into a terribly obvious story, but again, a great atmosphere and several fierce performances will pull you through it.
Shaw’s turn is a magnificent slice of will and bitterness, but it’s Dunkirk’s Lowden who steals the film. In his hands, Thomas is so eerily sincere that you never know quite what to expect. He’s simultaneously sympathetic, pathetic, and sweetly terrifying.
Lawrance works valiantly against a script that frustrates you with its lazy plotting of constant near-escape and recapture. Worse still is the way Marcantonio ignores his underlying themes of racism—something that could have given the old Gothic style fable of bit of new life.