KINDRED: Unsettling, But Uneven

Quality horror-thrillers are all too rare these days; it’s either full-on horror or more of a drama, but Kindred, director Joe Marcantonio’s feature film debut, promises from its first frames to be an unsettling affair. Dripping with dread and paranoia, Kindred feels both timeless and timely; a film concerned more with mood than action and it also features a trio of exemplary performances.

Stuck In A House

Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) and her husband Ben (Edward Holcroft) live in Ben’s rural home village where Ben is a veterinarian and Charlotte works at the local stables. Ben’s relationship with his mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw) and adopted brother Thomas (Jack Lowden) is strained, even more after the couple announces their plans to leave the country and Charlotte finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy. However, tragedy strikes and Charlotte finds herself stuck in the lavish, but crumbling house with Margaret and Thomas and she soon begins to wonder if the pair truly have her and her baby’s best interests at heart.

KINDRED: Unsettling, But Uneven
source: IFC Midnight

Admittedly, Kindred’s plot doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to. Marcantonio, who also wrote the script with Jason McColgan, executes it with plenty of flair. From its opening moments, Kindred proves itself to be an unusually confident debut. Marcantonio resists throwing in cheap scares or plot twists but relies on his stars to communicate the script’s nuances and delicate themes.

Mommy Dearest

Motherhood has always been a popular subject with genre filmmakers; it’s ripe for metaphors and anxieties about the body as well as femininity and gender in general. McColgan and Marcantonio’s script absolutely nails Charlotte’s fears over the unborn and unplanned baby growing inside her, fears shared by millions of other women. It accurately and empathetically portrays the sense of dread and unwillingness that many mothers experience, never downplaying it but also never demonising Charlotte for potentially not wanting to keep the baby. It also never judges her after she does keep the baby. It’s not so much Charlotte’s maternal instincts that are under the magnifying glass here, but her bodily autonomy and state of mind.

Lawrance brilliantly portrays all the confusing emotions asked of her, without ever slipping into full-blown hysteria. Unfortunately, Charlotte remains quite a passive character; she’s stuck in a house but the plot seems to miss a central mystery for her to solve. She simply has nothing to do but to look pregnant and occasionally faint as she feels worse and worse, which may be because Margaret or Thomas are drugging her.

KINDRED: Unsettling, But Uneven
source: IFC Midnight

Both Fiona Shaw and Jack Lowden are on fine form here. Shaw plays Margaret with a touch a tragedy and empathy, while Lowden, who also serves as a producer here, injects Thomas with surprising humour and warmth. Both characters feel more rounded than Charlotte, which makes Kindred at times difficult to grasp. Marcantonio clearly doesn’t want to paint Margaret and Thomas as easy villains and while the characterisation is ambitious and helped by the performances, Kindred lacks action and starts dragging half-way through when Charlotte runs out of things to do.

Lush and vivid

Despite all this, Kindred looks impeccable. The cinematography by Carlos Catalán is one of the film’s biggest strengths as is the music by Natalie Holt and Jack Halama. The colour palette is relatively muted but Catalán captures the decaying, old house with hints of its former glory brilliantly. It’s a shame Kindred ultimately never finds its footing; it’s too generic for its own good, but a predictable ending. Marcantonio tries to lull into believing Kindred is doing something different with its premise, but ultimately has to stick to the rather inevitable narrative it sets out to craft early on. At least it’s all done compellingly and convincingly.

Kindred – Conclusion

Kindred is stylish and features great performances from all three leads. The dynamic between the Shaw, Lowden and Lawrance is the film’s best offering as is the impressively lush cinematography. While Kindred never quite soars as high as one might have hoped, it promises a lot for director Marcantonio, who demonstrates impeccable confidence and ability to control the mood and tone of a film and clearly has an eye for visuals.

Kindred is available on video on demand November 6 in the US.

What did you think of Kindred? Did you relate to Charlotte’s struggles? Let us know in the comments

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