By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Tamara Lawrance, Fiona Shaw and Jack Lowden
Directed by Joe Marcantonio
Written by Joe Marcantonio and Jason McColgan
Expectant motherhood can be a nerve-wracking experience, and one of the things that sets KINDRED apart from similar films is that it acknowledges the fact before external forces turn the life of its heroine into a (quiet) horrorshow. Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) has a great relationship with her boyfriend Ben (Edward Holcroft), but she becomes nervous when she becomes pregnant, in part due to uneasy memories of her upbringing with her own mother. “You’re not your mum, you’re going to be a great mum,” Ben, who’s more excited about the news, reassures her.
He is clearly less emotionally constrained by his own mother, Margaret (Fiona Shaw), who’s no prize either. Living in a nearby but sequestered gated estate with his stepbrother Thomas (Jack Lowden), she’s a domineering dowager who does not react well when Ben and Charlotte inform her that they’re planning a move to Australia. She’s incensed that both her son and her future grandchild will soon be halfway around the world…and then tragic circumstances lead Charlotte to become bedridden in Margaret’s house. “We will serve lunch at 1,” Margaret informs her, and this assiduous adherence to schedule in the fact of Charlotte’s trauma tells you everything you need to know about how Margaret views her “guest.”
In fact, Charlotte is more of a prisoner, and her gradual realization of just how incapable she is of leaving is the core of the tension director Joe Marcantonio builds throughout KINDRED. Marcantonio has a commercials background, but his first feature (which he scripted with Jason McColgan) does the reverse of selling the opulence of its setting; the interiors of the mansion, with all of its art and antiques, are photographed by Carlos Catalan in a way that distorts them and drains them of appealing color. Within its sometimes sickly walls, Charlotte loses her cell phone (that very modern agent of freedom) as Margaret and Thomas continue to do what they insist is best for her and her impending baby. Yet Thomas becomes a little too friendly, winding up in Charlotte’s bed at one point, and Margaret has a lengthy monologue, impressively delivered by Shaw, to the reluctant Charlotte revealing just why she’s so anxious to have a grandchild.
Shaw is a middle-aged agent of unease in the great tradition, rarely raising her voice (and making it count when she does) yet frightening in her determination to keep Charlotte and her child in the family. Lawrance is equally compelling as a woman whose ambivalence about motherhood becomes challenged in a couple of different ways by her confinement in Margaret’s stronghold. Some have made comparisons to GET OUT, though as the director has noted, the fact that Charlotte is black among an otherwise white milieu was an accident of casting, much like Duane Jones in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. In any case, KINDRED is less concerned with race than with class, and what makes KINDRED up-to-date is the gaslighting aspect of the story, as upper-class Margaret and Thomas impose their will on, and attempt to manipulate the emotions of, the working-class Charlotte.
Marcantonio has acknowledged the influence of ROSEMARY’S BABY, yet there’s nothing supernatural going on here (though from the beginning, Marcantonio makes repeated and evocative use of crows as visual and occasionally nightmarish representations of the menace closing in on Charlotte). The horrors in KINDRED are all psychological, simmering under the surface for most of the running time, yet they hold your attention throughout.