Kindred (2020)

JUNE 20, 2021


When Scream Factory said they were putting out Kindred, some (including me) assumed it referred to the 1987 movie with Rod Steiger, a mutant baby thing that's right in their wheelhouse. But no, it's a new film (coming from SF via their IFC partnership), a sort of Rosemary's Baby/Flowers in the Attic hybrid about a woman who is having a pretty rough month: first she finds out she's pregnant despite being on the pill, and then her boyfriend gets killed in an accident, prompting her would-be mother-in-law Margaret (Fiona "Aunt Petunia" Shaw) to decide to basically trap her in her stately manor until the baby is born, feeling she's got a right to be a part of its life as it's all she has left of her bloodline.

Not a bad plot for a film, and for the most part it works just fine, though it can feel a bit repetitive the longer it goes. And it does go long; it's over 100 minutes and yet what I already described is pretty much the extent of its narrative. Our pregnant hero, Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) occasionally attempts an escape or tries to get someone to help her, but nothing ever works: she ends up back in the house and/or her would be saviors turn her directly over to the mother and her stepson, Thomas (Jack Lowden). The thrust comes from whether they actually mean to do her harm (i.e. will they kill her once the baby is born) or if they're actually right to be so over protective, as not only does Charlotte not want the baby (at first anyway) but she exhibits signs of some kind of mental illness that causes her to see things and forget things.

The way this is handled is pretty interesting. Early on she cuts her hand on a glass, and we see this, but she doesn't remember it the next morning - as far as she's concerned, they did something to her in her sleep. So any other developments, such as when she wakes up to find Thomas in her bed and he claims she asked him to be there for some kind of comfort, we are left not fully knowing if she is being gaslit or if Thomas is telling the truth. Apart from locking her in a room for a bit (after she becomes violent), they never really do anything harmful to her, so as far as we can see their only real crime is being overprotective of a child that they have no claim to but seemingly only want to ensure it doesn't die due to the mother's increasingly irrational behavior.

So we're dealing with a lot of gray areas here, essentially. It'd be easy to say Charlotte's the hero and Margaret is the villain, but (and perhaps actual parents like me - watching on Father's Day no less - will be more susceptible here) when it comes to the safety of the child, there is no question that despite her domineering attitude, the kid's got a better chance with Margaret. Charlotte, on the other hand, hallucinates a flock of birds attacking her car and ultimately crashes, the sort of thing that might have easily killed them both (she also repeatedly drinks and smokes after discovering she is pregnant). But your sympathies will likely lie with her anyway, because at the end of the day she is repeatedly having control of her own life being taken away. Even boyfriend Ben goads her into keeping the child when she discovers she's pregnant, waving off her hesitation and telling her she'd be a great mom.

The occasionally frustrating vagueness and circular plotting is more or less balanced out by the terrific performances of its central trio of cast members, in particular Shaw who gives an outstanding three and a half minute monologue about the double edged sword of parenting, and how she regrets being selfish when Ben was an infant - it apparently took her a few years for her protective nature to kick in. Director Joe Marcantonio lets it play out in an unbroken shot with an almost imperceptible dolly in, and it's far and away the best part of the movie, an almost literal centerpiece (meaning it comes around the halfway mark) that would have probably bumped the movie up a full star for me, if I were to give ratings here.

Marcantonio provides a commentary for the disc's lone extra besides the trailer, and while it's more technically oriented than I would have liked (as he cowrote the script I was hoping for more narrative insight) it's a pretty enjoyable track all the same. He notes that the presence of tea in the film was not an intentional reference to Get Out, as many have claimed, and also explains that the script was not written for a Black woman, specifically, but she just happened to be the best actress that he saw for the job (he notes he only made one change as a result: instead of the locked room she was originally chained to the bed, but he didn't want people to draw that connection). He also wonders if anyone would listen to it, to which I say "I did!"

He also, at one point, says that he didn't really cut much out of the movie, though he notes several occasions where something was removed, so I guess I should be grateful that the movie isn't over two hours long as it seemingly could have been. He could have cut MORE (there's a random bit with a groundskeeper that has no bearing on anything that I could see), but as this is also the sort of movie that demands a little patience, perhaps by keeping it over 100 minutes he is ensuring the sort of folks who will hate it won't ever bother with it anyway as it's "too long." Ultimately, there are better options for this sort of thing (I'm glad he mentioned Park Chan-Wook on his commentary, as Stoker came to mind more than once during my viewing, both in general atmosphere and in creepy piano usage), but it's not like we're being inundated with them, so there's no harm in a slightly lesser entry joining the field. It's better than that other Kindred, at any rate.

What say you?


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