Synopsis: Plagued by mysterious hallucinations, a pregnant woman suspects that the family of her deceased boyfriend has intentions for her unborn child.
Stars: Tamara Lawrance, Fiona Show, Jack Lowden, Anton Lesser, Edward Holcroft, Chloe Pirrie
Director: Joe Marcantonio
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: The best ways that horror can get at us is at the places we are the most vulnerable. That’s why Psycho made showers so terrifying – you’re totally exposed and defenseless with just a thin sheet of plastic between you and a steamy room of shadows. Your mind will play tricks on you if you are in the wrong head space. Same thing goes for JAWS. There’s a reason why beaches were suddenly a little quieter the summer of 1975 when Steven Spielberg’s big shark film snacked on swimmers and munched away at the box office. If you’re out in the middle of the ocean, unable to get away from an unseen danger that lurks below…what can you do? Stick with a pool, is my advice. Even then…remember the 1980 movie Alligator? On second thought, stick to bathtubs. Wait, we’re back to Psycho again.
All this to say, a vulnerable state is a bad place to be if you’re in a horror film and that’s where Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance, On Chesil Beach) finds herself not too long after the start of Kindred, a new streaming film from the always dependable studio IFC Midnight (make sure to check out their other 2020 releases like Sputnik, The Wretched, Relic, and Centigrade). Similar to Rosemary’s Baby, this revolves around a pregnant woman that starts to have visions of danger and suffers from paranoia dismissed by those she trusts as her due date approaches. Unlike that classic Roman Polanski supernatural film (adapted from the bestselling Ira Levin book) however, there’s no apartment building with devil worshipping residents to wander around in, just a chilly English mansion that’s in need of a good restoration with two rather intense hosts never out of earshot.
Growing up with a mother that suffered terrible postpartum depression that spilled over into other mental health issues, Charlotte knew she never wanted to be a mother herself. So when she finds out from the village doctor she’s pregnant just as she and her boyfriend Ben (Edward Holcroft, Vampire Academy) announced to his mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw, Enola Holmes) and stepbrother Thomas (Jack Lowden, Mary, Queen of Scots) they were moving to Australia, she knows the timing is bad. Things go from bad to worse when Ben is tragically killed in a freak accident and she winds up homeless and living with Margaret in the family estate, isolated from the outside world.
At first, Charlotte begrudgingly accepts Margaret’s hospitality. Though the two women never saw eye to eye (and a hospital quarrel after Ben’s death rose to a shocking climax), they’ve agreed to let bygones be bygones for the sake of the baby. Suffering from dizzy spells and health issues that can’t be fully diagnosed, Charlotte will stay with Margaret and Thomas until she’s well enough to begin her new life outside of the insular cottage-town she shared with her late lover. Meanwhile, Margaret appears to have taken a decidedly keen interest in the welfare of Charlotte’s baby (naturally, it’s her only grandchild) and soon Charlotte realizes that she’s become a de facto prisoner of her almost mother-in-law and her strangely enigmatic stepson. If Charlotte had politely tolerated Margaret before, she’d barely taken the time to glance at Thomas but now she’s forced into getting to know him as a way to protect herself from Margaret and, eventually, him.
Writer/director Joe Marcantonio and his co-writer Jason McColgan have given Kindred the gentlest of burns and the boil is slow to bubble. When the heat does eventually rise, it has its spooky moments and that it derives its suspense from realism instead of mysticism helps the film hold together better in some of its shakier stretches. I had a hard time believing the strong-willed Charlotte would have let these shenanigans go on for as long as she does but there’s a politeness she’s trying to master, especially after her earlier run-in with Margaret, that I could eventually go with it. Things start to careen wildly near the end, unfortunately, and while I’m not giving any spoilers away I will say that I’m not so sure the writers came up with the most efficient way to end the film. I’m betting there’s one or two alternate endings that show up on an eventual home release of the movie.
What keeps the movie ever watchable are the trio of performances with all three actors holding their cards so close to their chest they might as well have them sewn to their undershirts. I thought Lawrance was a dynamic lead, an inspired choice maybe because it looks like early on she could escape at any point but by the time she does realize she’s trapped she’s in no physical condition to get away. You’re invested in the character even before she gets ensconced in the mansion and that’s saying something. Also serving as producer, Lowden takes what could have been purely creepy character and given him a dangerous allure that encourages you to let your guard down. Both Lowden and Shaw are at the center of the film’s two best moments, largely uninterrupted monologues that reveal certain character business about each…excellent stuff. Pay special attention to Shaw’s lengthy monologue about her son and a dog, it’s always fascinating to watch Shaw build a character and here you get to see her do it right in front of you with the tiniest of brilliant brush strokes.
Without many of the “loud” elements that give films similar to Kindred more jolts, I can imagine how the film might come off as a little staid for some. I watched this one late at night and was impressed at how well it kept my attention even well into the midnight hour. It’s measured in its energy, to be sure, and it gets increasingly standard the longer it goes, disappointingly so considering how good the first 50 minutes or are. However, those three lead performances coupled with a plot grounded in some type of reality that makes what happens all the more unsettling help to make Kindred worth the labor pains you may feel at times getting through the more familiar-feeling passages.