The success of a slow-moving thriller depends on the progression of the threat and the characters’ belief in their peril. Else, the true disaster arrives as a mere resolution and – even worse, compadre? – an explosion of wasted time. Kindred might move at a zombie pace (the Romero type, eh) but is a triumph in turning a regular brew into a tasty pumpkin spice latte.
Both suspenseful and dramatic, Kindred is an undulating thriller full of second-guesses and betrayal under the tight enclosure of a manipulative family while remaining ohso perfectly British, quiches and all.
Kindred marks the full-feature debut for director Joe Marcantonio, and in any other year, this would have been a word-of-mouth hit at indie theaters. Marcantonio masters the slow burn. The setting is a properly-stuffy English manor that is foreboding and beautiful… until one notices the inner decay eating away at the wallpaper; hidden mold breaking through the cracks. Similarly, the movie starts out sunny and hopeful only to end in gloom and despair. Marcantonio is never flashy – until he needs to be – and often quiet, until the noise screams through.
Following the accidental death of her boyfriend, mother-to-be Charlotte is taken in by his estranged mother, Margaret, and her adult step-son, Thomas. At first their help and care is welcome until Charlotte becomes aware that they truly only want her unborn child to carry on the family name. Dread brings the realization that once the child is born, what need is there of the mother? Like Jonathan Harker in Castle Dracula, Charlotte’s role transforms from guest to that of prisoner.
Charlotte’s paranoia escalates as the narrative pushes forward. Her damaged phone is never returned. And what is being mixed in with her tea? Or is all this confusion an onset of rushing hormones? Even attempts at escape merely result in tighter restrictions. Charlotte wants the child but she desires her freedom all the more.
Kindred is nearly a three-person performance; all tight and Hitchcockian with suspicious behavior and suspect wordplay filling the vaulted halls. Charlotte is played by Tamara Lawrance who fills the role with pregnant anxiety and righteous anger. Fiona Shaw (My Left Foot) and Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) are British proper with their stiff-upper lip rituals yet demonically possessive with their demanding manipulations. Again, were this any other year, Lowden’s name would be on many a score card during the awards season.
Kindred is more psychological terror than ghost story. There is no need for creeping shadows in the out-of-focus background. No zombie gore or lycanthrope transformations. Marcantonio instead slowly transforms the wonder of the family estate into a dilapidated prison. The passage of time is beautifully shown in Charlotte’s appearance: her belly swells with life, her Naomi Nagata-style mohawk lengthens into braids. Marcantonio reigns in subtlety. And crows. He must love those birds.
The silence of the movie is undercut by the strings and keys performed by Jack Halama and Natalie Holt. Like those of Margaret and Thomas, the music is also manipulative; the volume amps up at specific times that is all too common within the genre. One of the best musical selections comes at playing Yo-Yo Ma’s signature Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prélude by Bach during a turbulent scene of betrayal.
Running at 101 minutes, Kindred feels double that. Yet that distortion in time allows Marcantonio to fill this cinematic world with real and full moments: the sorrow at the death of Ben, Charlotte’s paramour; the comfort of a cuppa divorced by the revolting poison within; the overwhelming joy over the possibility of freedom; questioning the duty of family and the role of motherhood. Kindred might be frustratingly slow, yet it is also thoroughly entertaining.