Suspenseful as a thriller, but weak as a comment on racism, falls below potential.
Taking its cues from Rosemary's Baby and, more prominently, Get Out, Kindred also manages to combine the Gothic elements of Dracula where the life-blood is sucked out of a captive. This sounds ambitious but the film never achieves the grab-you-by-the-throat power of any of those works.
Charlotte (Tamara Lawrence) plans to move to Australia with her boyfriend, Ben (Edward Holcroft), far from his domineering mother Margret (Fiona Shaw), when he dies in a freak accident.
Hellbent to make sure that she keeps her dead son's child, Margret with the help of her other son Thomas (Jack Lowdon), holds Charlotte captive.
With Charlotte standing in the stark background against the very white old-time rich family that controls her every movement, it is a potentially potent set-up. But Kindred does not have anything else to say about race relations beyond the fact that it is easy for a white person to snatch away everything from a person of color. That is in itself a powerful statement, but the film is content to show this through repetitive scenarios. But what I found most disappointing is the fact that one can easily replace Charlotte as a black woman with Charlotte as a poor-white woman and it wouldn't make much difference to the story.
In Get Out the cultural disparities are sharply underlined and examined hence, they make us question our own prejudices. Here, the filmmakers are satisfied by just having a black protagonist without touching on her past and culture. There is only one factor that tries to touch that aspect: food. It is established as an in-joke between Charlotte and Ben that Thomas almost makes quiche for lunch. An indicator of the kind of food that rich white people would indulge in.
There is also a good buildup to Charlotte's captivity. Because of her pregnancy and the drugs that she is being given, it takes her a little while to realize that she cannot leave. Once her condition dawns on her, she makes several attempts to flee her hell. Her struggle is gripping and Lawrence makes us feel her both, character's triumphs and loss. Unfortunately, this becomes a repetitious cycle, raising doubts about this story's existence as a feature film.
Even its claustrophobic atmosphere, definitely a virtue, starts to seem unintentional. This is because of its (mostly) one set location and there only being only another character, Jane (Chloe Pirrie), besides the two members of the family. Jane helps the family with the massive grounds and is, perhaps, the only successful chance that Charlotte will get to escape. Then there is the Rosemary's Baby-esque sinister Dr. Richards (played by a wasted Anton Lesser).
Crows have always been fodder for a harbinger of evil in horror films and Kindred has loads of them. But as their meaning becomes more and more evasive, they get more annoying than menacing.
The film has genuinely suspenseful moments and the performances are all very good with Lawrence convincingly playing the increasingly horrified Charlotte. But she is not a latent protagonist. Throughout, she fights her situation with cleverness. Shaw, a veteran of playing cold, calculating characters uses her physicality to her advantage. But the performance I most enjoyed was Lowdon's. Thomas comes into focus slowly and Lowdon imbues it with an ambiguity that keeps us wondering till the end.
In both, Get Out and Kindred racism and cultural appropriation insidiously lurk beneath the mask of acceptance. But where the former fully explored the ramifications, the latter assumes that its color symbolism is strong enough.
And it is. But only for a while.