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BLACK NIGHTS 2020 First Feature Competition

Review: Kindred

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- Joe Marcantonio’s debut feature is an outstanding psychological thriller, able to keep viewers on thin ice for 90 minutes

Review: Kindred
Tamara Lawrance in Kindred

One of the most surprising titles of this year’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival is without a doubt Joe Marcantonio’s debut feature, entitled Kindred [+see also:
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film profile
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and screened out of competition in the First Feature section. The film was previously released in select theatres and on VOD and digital platforms in the United States on 6 November. Before developing Kindred, Marcantonio worked on a number of commercials as well as several fiction and non-fiction short films.

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The story, penned by the director himself in tandem with Jason McColgan, follows a thirty-something Black British woman called Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) whose life is shattered by the sudden death of her boyfriend Ben (Edward Holcroft), victim of an unfortunate accident while working at his cottage. Ben and Charlotte had planned to move to Australia but the news was not well received by his overbearing mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw), who later accuses Charlotte of being responsible for her son’s death. The harsh confrontation ends up with the young woman fainting and waking up in Ben’s family home, a crumbling old manor in the middle of nowhere.

A little before Ben’s death, Charlotte revealed that she was pregnant. Margaret together with her son Thomas (Jack Lowden) therefore decide to take care of Charlotte while she is trying to recover from the shock and, possibly, for the whole duration of her pregnancy. Grief-stricken and haunted by visions, Charlotte is forced to reluctantly accept their offer.

But what seemed to be a provisional arrangement gradually turns into something bigger and more permanent, as Thomas and Margaret sell all of Ben’s properties – he was supposedly heavily indebted – and move Charlotte’s personal effects into the manor. The main mechanism which makes the film engaging and compelling is the exhausting psychological game played by Tamara, Margaret and Thomas, always on thin ice. On the one hand, Tamara needs to cope with her loss and is afraid of being kept captive, though she may have reasonably developed some form of paranoia; on the other hand, Ben and Margaret assume an ambiguous behaviour towards the woman which oscillates between a very possessive and obsessive attitude, and a more innocent, overly apprehensive desire to keep the family united.

Said game, along with the frightening visions experienced by Tamara (well crafted and rich in powerfully evocative images), allow viewers to empathise with her and her misfortunes. The story’s success is largely owed to the film’s excellent writing and to the cast’s striking performances, in particular those of Shaw and Lawrance. Without jump scares or special effects, but with an elegant cinematography and superb production design, Kindred is a promising debut and a fast-paced thriller that will keep viewers on tenterhooks throughout its 90 minutes. The score, composed by Jack Halama and Natalie Holt, is simple and essential, in line with the minimalist spirit embodied by this interesting independent flick.

Kindred was produced by British outfits Reiver Pictures, Head Gear Films, Metrol Technology and Serotonin Films. Sales are handled by Germany’s Beta Cinema.

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