Directed by Joe Marcantonio.
Starring Tamara Lawrance, Jack Lowden, Fiona Shaw, Toyah Frantzen, Nyree Yergainharsian, Natalia Kostrzewa, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Anton Lesser, Chloe Pirrie, and Edward Holcroft.
When her boyfriend dies suddenly in an accident, psychologically fragile mother-to-be Charlotte is taken in by his family – but they seem increasingly obsessed with her every move. Her suspicions grow and panic builds – but just how far will they go in their desire to control her and her unborn baby?
It’s hard to tell if Kindred (the debut narrative feature from Joe Marcantonio, also co-writing with Jacob McColgan) is taking a route so subtle in its commentary on race relations or if the crew randomly just landed on a Black lead in Tamara Lawrance, who is certainly deserving of the role in her depiction of a confused state of mania while potentially being gaslighted by what remains of British aristocrats hanging on to their social status by a thread inside their decaying estate. The answer really doesn’t matter because it’s actually obnoxious how anything about the story or the characters refuse to bring that dynamic to the forefront. If it truly is all artistic nuance, Kindred is a repetitive slog demonstrating the terrorizing concept that, even with slavery abolished, white people will always find ways to control and suppress Black people.
Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) is newly pregnant and unsure about keeping her baby conceived with boyfriend Ben (Edward Holcroft), but as they discuss the life-altering event like adults they also decide to visit his estranged parents in their estate, which is run by matriarch Margaret (a conniving and cruel Fiona Shaw) and her stepson Thomas (a difficult to read and creepy Jack Lowden, who lets his eyes command the screen when it comes to manipulating Charlotte) that also serves as her caretaker (she’s badly injured and has trouble getting around). In what could be a freak accident or sinister scheming, Ben bites the bullet while tending to a horse, prompting Margaret and Thomas to get a little too controlling about keeping Charlotte in their home.
It starts out limiting her from going outside on walks, selecting her attire for the funeral, handpicking a doctor to oversee the pregnancy, and more until what is essentially a full-on lockdown that brings to mind both a story of family obsession, legacy, and loyalty with that aforementioned element of stripping a Black individual of their identity. Does it need calling attention toward to be absolutely horrifying? No, but not addressing it is a backward choice given the themes of the movie. Whatever depth Kindred could have had has been discarded for a standard “is she crazy or not crazy” question.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest both, as I’m sure you can already tell the family here is nothing short of crazy, with Fiona Shaw taking note and raising her voice once or twice. Admittedly, Margaret’s motives, while nasty and have nothing to do with race whatsoever, are complicated with a degree of empathy there. Her life has not been a happy one despite the inherited wealth, somewhat making Kindred also a story about regret and twisted misguided redemption.
Just as much, it’s about Charlotte hallucinating visions of crows, increasingly becoming convinced that she has been drugged for desired effects rather than suffering from inherited psychosis from her mother, and her consistent attempts at escaping that fall somewhere between acting on this insane situation far too late but with a fair amount of tense moments when she inevitably does fight to take her life back. There’s a suspenseful sequence that occurs after she talks her way into a visit to a hospital, doing everything in her minuscule power to raise awareness to the staff that she’s being held, hostage.
Kindred does give an answer of sorts, but it’s wholly unsatisfying and just leans further into the repetition that has already ground the proceedings to a halt. All three central performances are terrific, but they fail at heightening the terror of the situation. If anything, one is just left begging for a more socially conscious film that seems to have literally been conceived from a point of race relations and done nothing with it. Sometimes what’s nonexistent is a frustrating negative that weakens the aspects that are effective. In the case of Kindred, it also amplifies the tedium. Whatever friends you may have that cry out they are superior for never seeing color are sure to get more of a kick out of the psychological mind games.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com