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First Look Review - KINDRED

kindred review
When her partner dies, a pregnant young woman finds herself imprisoned on his mother's country estate.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Joe Marcantonio

Starring: Tamara Lawrance, Jack Lowden, Fiona Shaw, Edward Holcroft, Anton Lesser, Chloe Pirrie

kindred poster

Early on in Joe Marcantonio's directorial debut, Kindred, his protagonist, Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) gazes at a bird trapped in a cage. The cage is fashioned to resemble a doll's house, but it's a cage nonetheless. It's representative of the mindset of the movie's antagonist, wealthy landowner Margaret Clayton (Fiona Shaw), and of the establishment in general, who fail to appreciate why the rest of us might not want to spend our lives confined in cages of their making, even if they are gilded.

kindred review

The gilded cage Charlotte finds herself imprisoned in is the Clayton estate (named I suspect in tribute to The Innocents director Jack Clayton). Charlotte was in a relationship with Margaret's veterinarian son, Ben (Edward Holcroft), when he was tragically killed by the out of control horse he was attempting to treat. Just days before his death, Ben had angered his mother by revealing his plans to emigrate to Australia with Charlotte, an idea which Margaret viewed as an affront to nine generations of Claytons. There's another revelation in the days leading to Ben's death - Charlotte is pregnant with his child, despite being on the pill and having no wish to bring a sprog into the world.


Following an angry confrontation with Margaret in the immediate aftermath of Ben's death, Charlotte faints, waking up a couple of days later in a bed in the Clayton home. Thomas (Jack Lowden), Margaret's creepily attentive step-son, informs Charlotte that he's visited her home and brought all her belongings so she can stay under the watchful eye of himself and Margaret. When Charlotte expresses her desire to return to her own home, she is told that the property has been sold, due to Ben's debts. Suspiciously, her mobile phone is broken, but Thomas promises to have it repaired the next time he's in town.

kindred review

Under the proviso of doing what's best for the child, Margaret and Thomas begin a campaign of attempting to gaslight Charlotte into believing they have her best interests in mind. But here's the thing about Kindred - they just might be genuine in this regard. Where other gaslighting thrillers make it clear what their villains are up to, nothing is so clear cut in Marcantonio's film. As played by Shaw, Margaret is a terrifying and intimidating presence, but there are also moments where she displays a vulnerability, and we learn at one point that she was a victim of controlling abuse herself in the past. Thomas behaves like a genuinely nice guy, but in that unsettling way "nice guys" have of creeping us out - is he up to no good, or are we simply so cynical a society that we can't accept that some people might just be well meaning? When Charlotte attempts to strike back, we find ourselves falling into the trap of worrying about the health of the child she's carrying rather than her own freedom. In this manner, Kindred is the best type of gaslighting thriller, one that gaslights the audience along with its heroine.


Equally nuanced is the issue around Charlotte's autonomy regarding the child she's carrying. Initially she wants rid, but even Ben undermines her in this regard, and following his death she seems to warm somewhat to the idea, possibly feeling she owes it to his memory to have his child. If the movie appears to begin as an allegory for the selfishness of the pro-life crowd, it morphs into something else, as by the final act Charlotte is fully determined to have the child, but on her own terms. Is Charlotte's change of mind spurred on by the idea that Margaret believes her an unfit mother? By having the child, is Charlotte coalescing to Margaret's wishes or acting in defiance? Has she become a victim of reverse psychology? Marcantonio doesn't give us any easy answers here.

kindred review

In this era of mechanical jump scares and CG, Kindred is a rare performance driven horror movie, and what performances! Relative newcomer Lawrance is quite a find, comfortable across the final girl spectrum that requires a performer to go from shrinking mouse to angry lioness, and her facial reactions to the ongoing absurdities of her confinement inject some necessary comic moments to allay the tension. Lowden is brilliant as the ambiguous Thomas, his pleasant countenance rarely giving away the character's true intentions, and the confusion regarding whether he's on Charlotte or Margaret's side helps us to empathise with Charlotte's tortured and paranoid psychological state. It's the veteran Shaw who gets all the big moments, delivering a powerhouse performance of the sort that would be gifted awards recognition were there not an ongoing snobbery towards genre fare (during an extended monologue, Marcantonio wisely keeps the camera trained on Shaw, her facial expressions taking us on a journey along with the words). In Margaret, herself and Marcantonio have created one of the most interesting antagonists of recent times, one who scares the bejeesus out of us while occasionally causing us to drop our guards and feel a smidgeon of sympathy for a woman who knows herself what it's like to be a victim.

Kindred
 is in US cinemas and on VOD from November 6th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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