Kindred doesn’t achieve much more than powering through a laundry list of tired indie horror film clichés.
A studio releasing its seasonal horror offering one week after Halloween is the equivalent of waving a white flag. It’s an admission that not even the spookiest of holidays could jumpstart interest in the title. IFC Films is one of the few studios that has found relative success in the current, fucked-up movie-going landscape, releasing independent and low-budget genre fare that has dominated drive-ins and those movie houses brave enough to open — The Wretched, The Rental, Relic, and The Nest all made far more money (and garnered far more attention) than they ever would have in a pre-pandemic landscape. Yet it’s hard to imagine that level of excitement or success extending to Kindred, a woman-in-peril thriller as generic as its title. In the year 2020, when your horror film opens with ominous shots of a sprawling estate in the English countryside, slow-motion footage of crows, and a dolly shot that slowly pushes in on a child’s dollhouse, you have already signaled to audience members your lack of interest in pursuing anything original. In fact, a few tweaks here and there, and Kindred could actually be a parody of everything IFC has been releasing over the past seven months.
Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) and Ben (Edward Holcroft) are a ridiculously good-looking vegan couple who are planning a move from England to Australia (presumably because they just received their hipster pamphlet in the mail with instructions for utopic Oceania living, but that isn’t made clear). Ben has a troubled relationship with his mother (Fiona Shaw) and stepbrother Thomas (Jack Lowden), both of whom live in the aforementioned crumbling mansion. When Ben is killed in a freak accident involving a skittish horse — bonus points for anyone who had that on their indie cliché Bingo card — a pregnant Charlotte is essentially kidnapped and forced to live with Ben’s twisted family. Do they have sinister plans? Does Charlotte’s family history include mental illness brought upon by pregnancy? Will the troubled young woman have visions of a…murder of crows? Will someone explain why Lowden’s go-to move in trying to figure out what to do with his hands is to rub his ass? It’s unfortunately a no to the last mystery, but otherwise Kindred operates very much in the spirit of “what you see here is what you get,” with nary a surprise to be found in any of its 100 minutes.
First-time director/co-writer Joe Marcantonio brings nothing of interest visually to the proceedings, exhibiting a style most accurately described as adequate. There’s a shot here where Lowden is placed conspicuously low in the frame, but rather than serving any purpose, it just reminds of The King’s Speech — it’s telling that rather than inspiring any deeper consideration of its material, Kindred instead makes viewers think about the cinema of Tom Hooper. But then Charlotte begins screaming for the twentieth time about possibly being drugged, and attention is rudely snapped back to the film at hand. The acting, at least, is actually on-point, with Lawrance bringing some much-needed pathos to her character’s dark dilemma, while Shaw gleefully chews the scenery, nowhere more so than in a five-minute unbroken take where she discusses the utter indifference she felt at becoming a mother and how that transformed into something like obsession. Of course, the irony here is that finding fine acting within clichéd indie horror cinema has become a cliché of its own at this point. And so, Kindred is essentially the equivalent of those second cousins you are forced to see at the holidays: you truly want to care, they seem like perfectly fine people, and the familiarity is comfortable, but you just can’t muster the energy to actually give a shit.