Feel free to add director Joe Marcantonio’s debut feature Kindred to the list of recent genre works that are actually family dramas couched in the effective framework of horror and/or thriller. Kindred begins with a young, unmarried, co-habitating British couple—Tamara Lawrance as Charlotte and Edward Holcroft as Ben—on their way to visit his mother, Margaret (Fiona Shaw) at the family’s palatial estate so they can tell her they’re moving to Australia. Naturally, Margaret is devastated, believing that her son was going to take over the house and eventually live in it as generations of their family have before them. But upon their return home, Ben (who is either a veterinarian or some kind of horse whisperer) is kicked in the head by a horse and killed, leaving Charlotte comatose with grief and Margaret at least knowing that her “perfect boy” won’t be leaving her, since he gets buried in the family’s plot on her property.
After a fainting spell, Charlotte is looked after by the creepy, buttoned-up family doctor (Anton Lesser), who informs her that she’s pregnant. Without her consent, the doctor informs Margaret as well, and Charlotte is moved into a guest room where Margaret and her stepson Thomas (Jack Lowden, playing the son of her alcoholic second husband, the one after Ben’s father) look after her but make it fairly clear at first that all they care about is the baby’s well being. When she first finds out she’s pregnant, Charlotte immediately asks the doctor “What if I don’t want it?” and he essentially brushes off the thought, marking the first of many times we see the film’s theme of people ignoring a woman on the subject of her body as well as her mental and physical well being.
Kindred begins to take on the shape of an early Polanski film, where Charlotte realizes that she’s more than a guest at the estate; she’s a prisoner, barely allowed to leave her room, let alone go out the front door to wander the grounds for fresh air. She still has issues with dizziness and is advised to stay in bed all the time, but when she makes it clear she wants to go home, Margaret informs her that not only have the contents of her home with Ben been moved into the estate but that Ben had hidden financial problems and his house has been taken by the bank. With each new piece of information and excuse as to why she can’t be allowed to leave, Charlotte’s paranoia ratchets further and further up, until she feels like she may be losing her mind. It doesn’t help that her long-dead mother had severe mental problems, beginning with postpartum depression, so every time Charlotte expresses her fears of being held captive, people believe her mother’s affliction is settling in nicely in her head as well.
But for most of the movie, filmmaker Marcantonio and co-writer Jason McColgan leave open the possibility that, in fact, Charlotte is losing her mind and imagining that the people who are caring for her are also her greatest enemies who only want her child and will find a way to dispose of her when the time is right. Charlotte attempts to escape several times, but anyone she enlists to help her ends up bringing her right back to Margaret, thinking it’s for the best. To add to the creep factor, Thomas takes a liking to Charlotte and clearly holds the delusion in his head that he could take the place of Ben in her life and as the father of her baby. She finds ways to use his feelings for her to her advantage, but things always seem to fall apart just before she’s successful in getting away.
As clever as the film is in places, it’s also exceedingly predictable most of the time. That doesn’t take away from the on-edge performances, particularly Shaw’s, who trips from kindly soon-to-be grandmother to single-minded, scheming witch who just wants control of the unborn child (whom she suggests be named Ben as well, at one point). After a while, Kindred becomes more of a waiting game than a genuine thriller. I was curious how things would wrap up, and I’ll give the filmmakers credit for giving their movie an ending that chilled me deeply—that might be the reason I’m giving it a mild recommendation.
The film is available now on VOD.
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