FrightFest 2021: No Escaping the Past in The Kindred

The Kindred opens with a double shock to grab the audience: Helen (April Pearson, Skins) runs down the corridor of a tower block and heads desperately outdoors, only to be faced with the suicide of someone who has jumped from above and then with oncoming cars as she steps back. This sets the scene for the story, but not for the film’s style. Helen spends the next year in a coma, and the first third or so of the plot sees her recovering from the traffic impact, bereavement (her father was the one who jumped), the coma, and the discovery that she gave birth during that coma. As if all that wasn’t enough for a young woman’s mental health, she also seems to be seeing things.

Helen’s reaction to pretty much everything is relatable. Having been through a major car accident myself (though not the other traumas mentioned above, thankfully), I can relate to the apparent depression she goes through, as well as the sense of putting a burden on her family. Both the writing and the acting in relation to this central character are spot on. There is one exception, though: I’m pretty sure in real life someone would have offered to find Helen some support—her health visitor, if not her husband. Her husband Greg (Blake Harrison, The Inbetweeners) is as loving and supportive as he can be, but this isn’t supportive enough by any means. That said, his character is also realistic: it’s a rare spouse who is perfect.

James Cosmo as Frank in The Kindred, contemplating a father's bond

Other characters (largely played by familiar British faces) come into play when The Kindred transforms from a domestic drama to a supernatural horror via mystery thriller. We have James Cosmo (His Dark Materials), who plays Frank, an old friend of Helen’s father. He understands her interest in the past and becomes someone she can confide in. Then there is Robbie Gee (Snatch, Desmonds) who plays Detective Shepherd rather well, though the writing is a little two-dimensional. A couple of casting surprises are Patrick Bergin (yes, from Sleeping with the Enemy fame) as a priest and Steve Oram (A Dark Song, Sightseers) as Stuart, the “psychic investigator” who really deserved a lot more screen time.

That blend of genres does work, by the way, and comes from Helen’s visions. She sees (or thinks she sees) children’s toys and sometimes actual children in a pretty bad state, harassing her and driving her mad. Living in the flat that used to be her father’s, it’s easy to assume at first that these might be the ghosts of children who lived there before him, but she starts to wonder if her father (Jimmy Yuill, Frankenstein, in flashbacks) might have been responsible for their deaths. Writer Christian J. Hearn has done a lovely job with the characters, but it’s a shame that the writing has to rely on neat coincidences or leaps in logic here and there. Discovering the location of unmarked graves, for example, shouldn’t be that easy.

Kindred is most certainly a mystery horror blend, with both genres present in the film’s style and story alike. Helen is a proper Nancy Drew (though less chirpy, of course) with internet research, questioning neighbours, and even visiting a retired detective. All the while, she also has to hold firmly onto her marbles in the face of spooky visitations. Compared to, say, The Sixth Sense, they don’t try to communicate, and they’re not as gory, but they’re certainly very effective. Director Jamie Patterson is clearly more concerned with the audience traveling Helen’s journey with her than unnecessary jump scares. (That said, there was one bit of gratuitous gore; perhaps the ghosts should have communicated to explain odd scenes like that and maybe the minor coincidences.)

April Pearson as Helen in The Kindred, looking to find out what made her go jump in the night

With all these hauntings, traumas, and general domestic strife, I should probably warn you that the overall tone is pretty miserable. Moritz Schmittat’s largely gentle music, fortunately, doesn’t amplify that but mirrors it well instead. Considering everything that happens to the poor family at the center of Kindred, the misery is not unwarranted, but so much of it didn’t have to turn out the way it did. This is a tragic film in the sense of dwelling on what might have been.

And it’s all about the good old parent-child relationship, of which there are several in the film. We’ve known what damage parents can do to their children since long before Philip Larkin wrote about it (though Helen refers sagely to the Bible instead), but we’ve learned a lot more since then about how to manage and relieve oneself of such baggage, and as I mentioned earlier, how to find help. Kindred doesn’t allow any of its characters hope, and I have to wonder whether Hearn has written from an unhappy family background; otherwise, perhaps the quest to uncover family secrets could have been written as determination to shake off the legacy.

The world premiere of Kindred takes place at the Arrow Video FrightFest in London on 26 August 2021. I recommend it to any viewers who have well-adjusted family relationships and have come to peace with their own flaws as parents.

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Written by Alix Turner

Alix discovered both David Lynch and Hardware in 1990, and has been seeking out weird and nasty films ever since (though their tastes have become broader and more cosmopolitan). A few years ago, Alix discovered a fondness for genre festivals and a knack for writing about films, and now cannot seem to stop. They especially appreciate wit and representation on screen, and introducing old favourites to their teenage daughter.

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