In the grim, stony English manor in which Joe Marcantonio’s Kindred mostly takes place, the walls are lined with portraits of white colonialists, men who made their way by stealing from the native cultures they subjugated. It’s a theme that weighs heavy throughout this nightmarish Rosemary’s Baby-style horror, and while Marcantonio lays it on pretty thick the feeling of discord he creates weighs just as heavy.
Left to stare back at those immortalized homages to colonialism is Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance), a black woman whose boyfriend Ben (Edward Holcroft) grew up in that home. But he has gotten away from it, and plans with her a move to Australia where they are free to love one another without judgment from his controlling mother, Margaret (Fiona Shaw), and her eerily loyal other son Thomas (Jack Lowden). She does not take the news well. Margaret demands Ben stay close to home to fulfill long-held Clayton family obligations. He refuses. He’s dead, rather freakishly, soon after.
The matter is complicated by news of Charlotte’s pregnancy. She wakes up shortly after Ben’s death, looking deathly frail and frantic, only to learn that she is basically a prisoner in the Clayton residence. Margaret claims it is for the sake of the baby that Charlotte can’t go two feet without Thomas hovering over her offering food, much less leave the manor grounds. But Charlotte doesn’t even want to have a child. She made that clear to Ben before he died, and he basically ignored her. Now his family is ignoring her wishes, too.
Kindred gives off the paranoiac atmosphere that Polanski so often trafficked in, but Marcantonio adds a timely spin. Women’s rights, especially in regards to abortion, are a familiar theme in horror but the racial component, Charlotte being a captive to this outwardly-pleasant white family, is like something out of the antebellum South. This would be a completely different film of lessened impact if Charlotte weren’t a person of color. Otherwise, the hostage scenario Marcantonio creates is a familiar one, with the exception of Charlotte’s occasional visions of flocking magpies. Neither the supernatural vibe or heavy symbolism works when the horrors Charlotte faces already feel real enough.
Lawrance, whose credits are mostly in stage, TV, and the recent feature On Chesil Beach, depicts the shock and isolation Charlotte feels at being dismissed and gaslit at every turn. She went from the heights of happiness one moment, to being a captive in the next, and she goes through the stages of figuring out her predicament, plotting what to do next, and deciding who she can trust. There’s a certain amount of ambiguity about what’s really going on with her and some of the moves she makes (like a possible romantic interest), and it all adds to the feeling of being trapped in a cage. As women see their rights attacked or stolen outright from them in the here and now, Kindred uses genre to capture the fear and panic they’re going through.