‘Kindred’ is a Claustrophobic, Country House Horror

A still from 'Kindred'. Charlotte (Tamara Lawrence) is shown right in the front of the frame, laying in bed, but staring wide awake down the camera, looking frustrated. Behind her is a horse, almost dreamlike. The image is shrouded in blue light.
IFC Films

Charlotte (Tamara Lawrence) is a woman thriving in her relationship with the adorable Ben (Edward Holcroft), supporting him as he musters up the courage to tell his overbearing mother (Fiona Shaw) that they’re moving to Australia. Once the worst of that is over, they start packing — but from all of these new prospects on the horizons, Charlotte’s choices are taken from her one by one. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she can’t even break the news herself, as the doctor (Anton Lesser) has already told Ben’s mother. Nothing is secret or sacred, and this only gets worse. 

Though her pregnancy isn’t demonised exactly, the baby represents a path she wasn’t ready for, and when Ben dies in a tragic accident, she’s stuck with her almost in-laws. Living in a rundown country home they’re so adherent to archaic traditions that they insist on keeping Charlotte shut away. It’s a world of privilege once so admired and aspired to, now wearing away, clung to by a class that doesn’t fit into the real world but still controls so much of it. From tiny details like forgetting Charlotte’s vegetarianism, they are so wrapped up in their own affairs, they are clueless about anything outside of their kingdom. 

Kindred plays on a classic gendered nightmare, after all the word “hysteria” comes from the Greek for uterus and a similar story of a woman driven mad in quarantine can be seen in the 1892 short story The Yellow Wallpaper. Here it is amplified by its racially charged modern context, much like Get Out, the insidious objectification of the black body underlies the family’s supposed concerns for her wellbeing. They play on her paranoia to the point where she starts playing the same game in order to escape. It’s a careful back-and-forth between the three central actors, treading a careful line between shock and predictability. It’s the latter’s believability that hurts the most, hopelessly watching the story play out adds to its heartbreaking gut punches. 

Tamara Lawrence —a favourite of The National Theatre— pulls out all the stops in bringing out all the anguish, horror and rage in her protagonist. Fiona Shaw’s eagle-eyed scrutiny and Jack Lowden’s wide-eyed, boyish charm are pitch-perfect. Having both played iconic roles within recent memory, their familiarity does help them seem trustworthy and in moments of vulnerability, they really do seem empathetic, making the gaslighting that much more sinister. 

Charlotte’s world grows smaller and smaller until she can’t even leave her room and as well as the historical connotations of confinement, it speaks to those facing a new lockdown, trapped and silenced by abusive families in these isolating times. Warping classics like ‘Clair de Lune’ and ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ and recurring motifs of caged birds and crows of bad omen to create an eerie atmosphere, Kindred isn’t super original but it is effective. As Charlotte becomes more a vessel for this heir, and less an autonomous human being, it reflects a culture of demonisation and hopelessness that black women face by the medical profession and society today.

Kindred is out in select cinemas and available on VOD from November 6th

by Fatima Sheriff

Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens.Her favourite films do fluctuate but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and Twitter here.

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