The Kindred has its world première at FrightFest 2021
Jamie Patterson’s The Kindred opens with Helen Tullet (April Pearson) – although we do not yet know her name – running through the otherwise empty corridors of London’s Trellick Tower, clutching her belly and looking constantly back behind her, in a clear state of distress. By the time she has taken the lift down, exited the building and, dazed and upset, looked back once more, right in front of her a body suddenly hits the pavement hard from above. “Dad!”, she exclaims, stepping away in horror – and she is hit by a passing taxi.
There are two, intimately related things about this prologue that will prove programmatic for the rest of the film. The first is the way that it launches the viewer in medias res, so that we, in our attempts to reconstruct a context that can give meaning to what we are watching unfold, become like Helen herself, moving forwards while ever looking backwards. The second is the sequence’s crafty misdirection, as Helen is initially framed as the ‘first to die’ (it’s too early for her to be final girl) in what initially looks like the start of a slasher film, but then the surprise death of an entirely different character shifts things somewhere else – and finally, in a double-whammy, the young woman in flight is herself taken out from an unexpected quarter. From the outset, this prologue is priming us to expect wild, lateral twists, and to try to guess from where they might come next.
In case the point is missed, the screenplay of Christian J. Hearn (who also scripted Patterson’s Fractured, 2016) compounds several further narrative twists, all still within within the first five minutes of The Kindred‘s running time. Helen has miraculously survived the accident! But she has been unconscious in a hospital bed for just over a year! And during that time, her daughter Heidi was born (“one of only three women in recorded history to have successfully given birth while in a coma”, as a doctor helpfully points out)! Now as the confused, partially amnesiac Helen must go down the long road of recovery and get used to the idea of (already) being mother to a little girl with whom she has not bonded, she also has no choice but to move into her late father’s apartment in Trellick Tower, still filled with the detritus of his life there.
Against the advice of her husband Greg (Blake Harrison) who just wants to get on with the business of forming a new family, Helen keeps looking back to her old one. As she tries to recall what happened before her father Robert (Jimmy Yuill) committed suicide (all she can recall is Rob asking, “Could you ever forgive me?”), Helen meets with his priest Father Monroe (Patrick Bergin) and with his long lost friend Frank Menzies (James Cosmo). Soon she is being more literally haunted by the forgotten past as the ghosts of several children increasingly manifest before her, drawing Helen, a modern police detective (Robbie Gee) and a retired one (Samantha Bond) into a cold case apparently connected to Helen’s father.
In other words, The Kindred is busy. On the one hand, it is a psychological study of a woman unravelling with post-partum anxieties about maternity and familial legacy. On the other, it is a tale of the supernatural and the unrestful dead, with the ever excellent Steve Oram turning up essentially to reprise his rôle of psychic medium from Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song (2016). It is also a Christian parable, addressing the problem of evil and the challenges of forgiveness, while throwing in serial killer thrills and police procedural. This overabundance of plotting allows Patterson to keep veering violently from one narrative strand to the next, wrong-footing the viewer multiple times along the way.
“Repeating, repeating, repeating,” says Oram’s Stu of the loop in which ghosts can become stuck, compelling them to replay moments of anguish or death over and over. Helen is also stuck in her own cycle of trauma, as she keeps revisiting the moments before Robert’s death in impressionistic, nightmarish flashbacks that prevent her from moving forwards. Meanwhile another cycle – that of abuse and aberrance passed from parent to child – casts its shadow over everything here, as Helen, staring intently into the mirror, must confront the true face of her identity and inheritance. It is the kind of tightly woven set-up where you will congratulate yourself for (correctly) seeing some of the twists coming a mile off, only to curse yourself for missing others entirely – and its bold, shocking dénouement brings the The Kindred‘s dialectic about nature and nurture full circle in a satisfying if edgily unsettling way.
strap: In Jamie Patterson’s psychological/supernatural thriller, a woman recovering from a coma starts questioning her father’s legacy
© Anton Bitel