November 4, 2020 Kindred (Movie Review)
What does it mean to be loyal to one’s family, and, better yet, how do we even define family? For one woman, family is little more than a cage in Kindred. IFC Midnight delivers the Psychological Thriller to select theaters, Digital and VOD on Friday, November 6, 2020.
Kindred marks the feature debut of talented Director Joe Marcantonio (Things That Can Kill You documentary short 2015, Red Light short 2017), who co-wrote the story with Jason McColgan (4 Weeks short 2009, The Wait short 2018). This is a tale that centers around a vivacious and intelligent woman named Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance: The Long Song series, Small Axe mini-series), who finds herself grief-stricken thanks to the tragic, accidental death of her boyfriend, Ben (Edward Holcroft: Vampire academy 2014, Alias Grace mini-series).
Collapsing under the weight of her emotional pain and the important decisions that she will now have to face alone, she wakes up in an unfamiliar bed in Ben’s family’s sprawling but crumbling manor house in the middle of nowhere. Soon, before his body has even been properly laid to rest, his overbearing mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw: Harry Potter franchise, Killing Eve series) and stepbrother Thomas (Jack Lowden: Dunkirk 2017, Fighting With My Family 2019) begin to insert themselves into Charlotte’s life in an overt and unnerving way. They say it’s what one does for family, but she’s not convinced that their motives are quite so well-intentioned.
Trapped and thwarted in her every move toward freedom, Charlotte searches for someone to turn to in her time of need. Doctor Richards (Anton Lesser: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 2011, Game of Thrones series) is on the family’s payroll, so her only chance is to appeal to her friend Jane (Chloe Pirrie: Shell 2012, War & Peace mini-series) for assistance in escaping Margaret’s iron grip. Although, despite her insistence to the contrary, could it be possible that the family is right and she is sick, experiencing a case of perinatal psychosis?
Similar in story to 2019’s Matriarch, but aesthetically more in line with 2018’s The Little Stranger, Kindred is a beautifully lush production that paints a languid tale. Neither cliché nor entirely unique in its plot, the film tackles its subject matter in a pleasing manner that elevates its tensely disconcerting experience. With moody cinematography from Carlos Catalán (A Twelve-Year Night 2018, Killing Eve series) that takes advantage of the gorgeous old manor house and its architectural wonders, as well as the natural beauty of Ireland where it was shot, and a magical score from Jack Halama (Traces series, Rogue 2020) and Natalie Holt (Infidel 2019, Herself 2020), this is a movie that does so many things right.
Though this admittedly never overcomes its slow-moving, somewhat predictable tale, if you are a patient moviegoer, it makes the viewing experience worthwhile. Managing to keep the audience engaged throughout its 100-minute runtime, Kindred does eventually offer up some twisting moments in its final act. Much of this comes thanks to the incendiary tension between its two very fiery female leads: Lawrance’s Charlotte and Shaw’s Margaret, each with her own opposing beliefs. Charlotte represents the modern woman: not sold on being a mother, content without a marriage certificate, and a hard worker. Able to overlook the eccentricities of her boyfriend’s family for his sake—despite their sole knowledge of vegetarian cuisine being quiche—she is fully relatable for most young women. Margaret is the matriarch: focused entirely on family, keeping up appearances, and avoiding any scandal, she has given her entire life to raising her two sons and maintaining her dilapidated estate.
As Charlotte, Lawrance shines. Spirited enough to physically fight back, but sophisticated enough to know when to play mind games, she shifts from being a grieving partner to a protective mother, hellbent on escaping the clutches of Margaret and the bizarre Thomas at nearly any cost. Shaw’s Margaret is likely to induce a rage in viewers who empathize with Lawrance’s character. A woman so focused on putting on airs, we never really know what might have made her happy had she pursued it.
In this, there is some millennial versus boomer commentary, but it hardly encompasses the bulk of Kindred. A look at family and what it means to different individuals, particularly how far some are willing to go in the name of blood, the film is a slow-burn journey full of tension and two very bold mothers. Capped off with plenty of animal symbology and lovely visual aesthetics, there’s something borderline gothic about Kindred and how it weaves its unsettling tale. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Kindred 4.5 of 5 stars.