In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
Kindred is a movie that you should go into as blindly as possible, and in order to preserve that experience for you, I’m going to keep things pretty minimal on the plot description front. A sort of mix between Rosemary’s Baby, Misery, and that odd feeling you get when someone is being a little too helpful, Kindred is a thriller that had my stomach in knots from beginning to end.
Tamara Lawrance plays Charlotte, a young woman whose only family to speak of is her significant other, Ben (Edward Holcroft). The two are planning a life together, and have decided to move to Australia, much to the chagrin of Ben’s mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw). Ben’s family is pretty well off, and his mother and step brother (Jack Lowden) live together in a very large estate in the middle of nowhere. This estate will one day be Ben’s, but he and Charlotte are largely uninterested. They’d like to start fresh in a new place. Margaret, the entitled rich widow that she is (she gets the vapors rather frequently), will not entertain this idea, and passive aggressively tries to shut it down.
Then tragedy strikes, and Charlotte finds out she’s pregnant to boot. What begins with a doctor violating doctor/patient privilege turns into what can only be described as a nightmare for Charlotte and as a wickedly tense thriller for us.
The script, by Jason McColgan and Joe Marcantonio, the latter of whom also directed the film, is a masterclass in motivational ambiguity. As Charlotte navigates a situation that may or may not be sinister, details are revealed that are telling but non-committal. Every new development brings one reason to be relieved along with ten reasons to panic. It’s a steady drip of information that had me on edge almost immediately and, if not for a slight sag in pacing during the third act transition, remained compelling throughout. Where it lands may or may not be your cup of tea, but it’s a scarily honest place at which to end the story, and one that speaks heavily to the themes of the film.
Charlotte is depicted as one of the strongest types imaginable. She’s got no relatives, and very little to call her own, but she exudes an air of confidence and assertion that all should aspire to. As an orphan in an interracial relationship (Charlotte is black and Ben is white — his family somehow even whiter), and a woman with a baby inside of her, Charlotte is not who society is carved out to serve, and Kindred depicts how these societal limitations manifest at a local level, showing how selfishness can disguise itself as care, and how care, issued dishonestly, can become a weapon in and of itself. Charlotte is a woman fighting for the physical and emotional autonomy that she doesn’t have, is surely owed, and is threatened by malevolent parties at every turn.
By playing into modern concerns of the interplay between established power structures and individual freedom, Kindred takes a classic plot structure and brings it into a contemporary conversation. The wheel isn’t being reinvented here, but it is being reapplied to suit the thought processes of a modern audience. On the one hand it leaves me hopeful to see that a thriller can be imbued with such strong thematic work without feeling didactic. On the other, it highlights the fact that, despite the modern flavor, these thematic concerns are pretty evergreen.
Lawrance’s performance is notable in that it’s both outwardly physical and deeply internal. She goes through an entire pregnancy through the course of the movie and Lawrance wears Charlotte’s changing physique quite naturally, aptly tying in the increased emotional stress of her situation with the changes her body is undergoing. This is key in creating a narrator that we are rooting for and wish to believe in, but who also may be unreliable.
Counter to Charlotte at all times is Margaret, and Fiona Shaw brings her to life in a very real, very scary way. She’s the mother-in-law who can’t help but to overstep her bounds, who desires to be helpful, but only on her own terms. And when things don’t go her way, she likes to feign injury or weakness to excuse herself from a situation until better terms can be negotiated. She’s very easy to hate, but Shaw brings a depth to her that makes her just as easy to understand and even pity.
Since this is a horror movie, however, pity is a finite resource.
Kindred is a type of movie that you’ve undoubtedly seen before, and while it doesn’t bring anything too game changing to to the table it succeeds in updating a classic horror shell and giving it modern resonance. As a showcase for the filmmakers and actors, it’s a big success, and as a way to make you relax and not feel crippled by unyielding suspense, it’s a total failure.
Kindred is now available for digital rental.