Kindred is an uncommonly effective horror movie because 99% of the things that happen in it are completely realistic. One specific moment in the last five minutes is slightly, intentionally on the surreal side. Beyond that, everything that occurs in the story could theoretically happen in real life. No need for suspension of disbelief. Director Joe Marcantonio, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jason McColgan, delivers a film that makes you mentally put yourself in the place of its heroine as a terrifying situation unfolds around her.
Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) has found herself in a bind. Not long after discovering that she's pregnant, her boyfriend Ben (Edward Holcroft) dies in a tragic accident. (This is not a spoiler – it's in all the marketing material.) Ben's overbearing mother Margaret (Harry Potter's Fiona Shaw) forces her to come stay in the family mansion. Also living there, inexplicably, is Ben's grown step-brother Thomas (Jack Lowden). Charlotte doesn't want to be there, but every time she gets an inkling to leave, her efforts are foiled. It quickly becomes clear that Margaret and Thomas are holding her hostage until the baby arrives.
Horror comes in two forms with Kindred. One is seeing how Charlotte's attempts to escape or get help are continually prevented by her captors, who somehow always seem to be a step ahead of her. The other is in seeing how scary Margaret has become in her desire to keep that baby under her roof. She's a woman so hell-bent on holding on to a piece of her late son that it turns her into a monster, albeit a monster with motivation that is understandable at some level.
Thomas adds a wild-card factor. He has no blood relation to Margaret, yet he not only lives with her, he also does her bidding. Although his manner is genteel, Charlotte recognizes that Thomas may have his own motivations. The plot does interesting things with these characters in the third act, as she starts to get a better read on him. An unexpected, uneasy dynamic develops between them.
A movie like this depends on the performances. Kindred's are terrific across the board. Lawrance plays Charlotte's confusion and fear in a manner that the viewer can feel. We can't help imagining ourselves in her panicked shoes as the story progresses. Shaw proves to be a great villain, in that she gets us to see that Margaret is driven by desperation more than malice. Yes, many of her actions are unconscionable, but they spring from her own fear. Antagonists like her are often scarier than ones who are just plain psycho. As Thomas, Lowden (Fighting with My Family) expertly walks the line so we aren't sure whether this guy is bad or simply misguided.
Kindred builds to an ending that gives you one final sucker punch of a jolt. The level of storytelling here is really high, so the movie's tension grows continually. Best of all, this is a prime example of human-centered horror, which is more difficult to pull off and extremely rewarding on those occasions when it is. Kindred pulls it off.
out of four
Kindred is unrated, but contains brief strong language and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.