Kindred Review: Strong performances uplift this unsettling maternal psychodrama

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Tamara Lawrence, Fiona Shaw and Jack Lowden star in Kindred, a creepy indie in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby and Get Out

Lawrence stars as Charlotte, a young woman living in rural Scotland with her boyfriend Ben under the shadow of his family’s grand but crumbling estate. The pair plan to move away to Australia to escape his domineering mother Margaret (Shaw) and sycophantic stepbrother Thomas (Lowden), but plans fall apart when Charlotte finds herself unwillingly pregnant and Ben is killed in an accident a short time afterwards. In the midst of her grief Charlotte is encouraged to move into the family home where Margaret and Thomas can look after her. Increasingly isolated and suspiciously plagued by hallucinations and blackouts, Charlotte starts to question their intentions towards her and the unborn child.

Like much of the rest of the post-Killing Eve world I am utterly in awe of Fiona Shaw, and having had the joy of seeing both Tamara Lawrence and Jack Lowden on stage they have all been instant draws for me these past few years. I’d watch near anything they’re in. With the three together this is a cast absolutely stacked with talent and thankfully each are given some meaty monologues to work with.

Fiona Shaw, Tamara Lawrence and Jack Lowden in Kindred

Kindred is hardly an original plot – comparisons to the maternal nightmare fuel of Rosemary’s Baby and the simmering racial tension of Get Out are inevitable – yet it does not feel too derivative of either. Kindred more so has all the hallmarks of a classic gothic horror – the fading mansion inhabited by a cold and uncaring gentry, the protagonist being taken in as a guest but then kept as a prisoner and the ominous presence of crows and spooky omens which scatter the film. Take away their supernatural elements and Kindred is as spiritually gothic as Dracula or Wuthering Heights.

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It plays too with the most Victorian of notions – female hysteria. We are told that Charlotte’s mother suffered from psychosis and throughout the film questions are asked over her own sanity. Plagued by nightmares and hallucinations Charlotte starts suffering from blackouts and waking up with gaps in her memory that she can’t explain. Whilst everyone around her insists that she is ill and being kept at the house for her own good she starts to believe that the family are drugging her. Kindred is a cleverly claustrophobic thing that allows Lawrence to shine as she descends from grief to paranoia, desperation and utter hopelessness.

The plot as a whole is fairly predictable with recurrent escapes and captures taking up much of the running time and the script is unfortunately largely unremarkable. Whilst there are a few moments of heart racing tension, Kindred largely seems to bimble along at an oddly slow pace, the dread it instils never quite boiling over into true terror or meaty confrontation.

Fiona Shaw and Tamara Lawrence in Kindred

There are however two terrific scenes that elevate the whole thing and showcase the monologuing skills of its cast. In a tightly framed shot Fiona Shaw recounts her fears as a new mother who did not connect with her son. It’s a wonderfully subtle piece that brings some humanity to her stony character. Later Jack Lowden recounts a story about getting vengeance against his abusive father and the complexity of emotion he manages to portray in this simple scene is an extraordinary bit of acting. Margaret and Thomas are satisfyingly nuanced characters who prove that human nature can be more terrifying than any monster or ghost, and yet it is in their moments of vulnerability that the two actors excel the most.

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Whilst I never normally read other reviews (be they critic or audience) before writing my own I couldn’t help but see a few complaints about Kindred’s ending whilst researching this article and was puzzled by the negativity – without spoiling anything I was perfectly satisfied by it, particularly because it feels terrifyingly believable. A rare thing in a genre oversaturated with serial killers and gore.

I suspect the film may be somewhat hampered by the fact that it is very hard to categorise and therefore advertise correctly – it’s not a horror in the modern sense of the word, nor would I call it a thriller as it’s not, well, thrilling; and anyone expecting some big supernatural reveal will disappointed (spoiler: it’s not Satan this time.) A mystery that leaves you to make up your own answers, Kindred is a unnerving psychodrama that may not make any great imaginative leaps but serves as a very decent showcase for some underappreciated stars.

Kindred is out on Sky Cinema or via Now TV (which has a seven day free trial) now

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