Kindred isn’t a gory film. There is no masked boogeyman or supernatural monster, either. Rather, the horror comes from a family trying to control a woman’s every single move and action, including her reproductive rights. The result is a film with the type of dread that encapsulates this very moment, when women’s rights are under attack at the global level. Intentional or not, Kindred feels incredibly relevant
Set in the UK and directed by Joe Marcantonio, Kindred largely revolves around Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance), who finds out within 20 minutes of the narrative that she’s pregnant. She wonders how that could be since she’s on the pill. Meanwhile, she and her boyfriend, Ben (Edward Holcroft), break the news to his family that they plan to move to Australia. Immediately, Ben’s mom, Margaret (Fiona Shaw), dismisses the couple’s plans. “What about your responsibilities?” she asks. It’s clear that her son can’t just fly from home so easily. Shaw’s performance makes Margaret a sinister and domineering villain.
Ben and Charlotte’s escape plans become a moot point, however, Ben dies in an accident not long into the film. From there, the narrative focuses on Charlotte’s imprisonment at the estate. There are locks on the gates and eventually locks on the doors. The film echoes negative stereotypes that were used throughout history to keep women in line. More than once, Margaret states that Charlotte is ill and even mentally unstable. “I can’t have you running around like a mad woman,” she says at one point, before adding, “Don’t you realize you’re the one who’s sick?” These words are so chilling because they’re rooted in an ugly history. Historically, women who showed too much agency and self-determination were locked away or labeled mad and crazy. Even more heinous is the fact that the matriarch orchestrates the abuse.
Charlotte’s isolation becomes increasingly paramount. There are shots where she is center framed, standing alone, even when people fill the room after Ben’s funeral, talking with one another. In another scene, she wanders outside, roaming the massive estate, before discovering the gates are padlocked. There is no getting out. It is an incredibly bleak scene, underscoring her dire situation.
Even some of the early conversations Charlotte has about the pregnancy are frightening. She makes it clear to Dr. Richards (Anton Lesser) that she doesn’t want to have the kid. Her mind is made up, but he tells her to go home and not make any rash decisions. Further, Ben never discusses it with her. He just wants to celebrate, and before she has the chance to break the news to his family, Dr. Richards already informs Margaret. Clearly, Charlotte has no say. This is the most terrifying element of the film. Everyone wants to control her body, to the point where they eventually lock her in the home after Ben’s death to ensure she carries the baby to term.
It’s hard not to watch Kindred and think about the last several years and the restrictions on women’s rights. A recent high court ruling in Poland would ban virtually all abortions. Recent nationwide protests have delayed implementation of the new law. In the United States, the fate of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion, is unknown now that the Supreme Court has a far-right 6-3 majority.
Maybe Kindred wouldn’t be so unsettling if it dropped during another time, but what Charlotte undergoes in the film, specifically her decreased agency, just feels so apt on a grander scale. That’s what’s so striking about the film. Her plight is largely what women have faced historically and even recently. Just look at the news out of Poland.
As the film progresses, Charlotte’s situation grows more and more dire. Every member of the family plays a role in imprisoning her, and even suspected allies turn out to be traitors. One of the creepiest roles is filled by Jack Lowden as Thomas, Ben’s brother. The dude is such a whacked out perv that Charlotte wakes up one morning to find him next to her in bed. Does he want to be a stand-in for Ben? Does he want to be the baby’s father? It’s unclear, but boy does he bring the creep factor to the role, even if he appears nice at first.
Kindred is a timely film. Its dread slowly builds to a heartbreaking conclusion and an ending that may frustrate some viewers. Charlotte’s plight and Margaret’s vicious words echo what women have endured in the past. But the film’s timeline isn’t set 200 years ago. It’s the present day and everyone wants to tell Charlotte what to do with her baby. No one listens to what she has to say. That’s what’s so horrifying about Kindred.
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