Film Review: Kin (USA, 2018) attempts to balance family drama and sci-fi for something different

It takes quite some time before Kin ramps into its intergalactic promise, with Aussie directors Jonathan and Josh Baker stretching their indie short Bag Man into an odd hybrid feature to try thin the chunky line between on-the-road family drama and sci-fi. And while the uneven plot can be frustrating to witness as it slowly splices one genre into another, the experimental aspect of using these sci-fi elements to accentuate a young boy’s character is interesting enough to hold Kin through it’s 1 hour and 42 minute run time.

That young boy is Eli (newcomer Myles Truitt), who is living with his bereaved adoptive father (Dennis Quad) and getting used to suddenly having his ex-con step brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor) around. He also happens to have stumbled across a large alien gun while scavenging for copper wire, unwittingly walking into the deadly aftermath of a warehouse battle between two helmeted Daft Punk-looking soldiers. It’s as weird as it sounds, and when Eli decides to take the gun home, the teenager’s actions come into conflict with his father’s moral lessons, which seem to mainly revolve around stealing.

This theme of stealing is further built up with Jimmy, since he was in prison for thievery which doesn’t sit well with Quaid’s stern character. Another thing not sitting well between father and troubled biological son is the fact that Jimmy has unwittingly put the family in danger from a local gangster (an excellent James Franco) to whom he owes protection money. Stealing comes into play again, and then a certain incident which leads Jimmy on a last-minute road trip with Eli. Forgot about the gun yet? Yeah, me too.

A big reason why I think a lot of people ended up hating on a television show like Lost has to do with genre. The mega-successful show started out as an exciting survival-drama about strangers crash-landed on a mysterious island with what – in the pilot – appeared to be some kind of large creature and a whole host of other dangers and secrets. Then writers Damon Lindelöf and Carlton Cuse pulled what many considered to be a genre bait-and-switch, rapidly introducing fantasy elements which began to turn some people off. By the controversial finale, Lost had become vastly different to it’s first season, playing with some people’s expectations and giving them something they clearly were not ready for. Maybe the type of person who hated Lost (a fool if you ask me) is the type of person who just can’t accept genres flowing into each other. And that type of person will have a very hard time with Kin.

Granted, there is a lot of frustration that is justified. As mentioned above, the balance of drama and sci-fi is much too uneven, which is particularly concerning given the marketing of this film is largely concerned with how cool the sci-fi elements – and they are pretty damn cool – are. They only feature in very small portions throughout the film, with Eli’s devastating alien weapon, which can disintegrate matter in seconds, popping up every now and to highlight the young kid’s bond with his family and desire to protect.

Kin features some incredible design when it dips into its sci-fi bits, and this is often where the Baker brothers seem to be most comfortable. When we’re sucked back into a meandering family drama – driven only by great acting from Reynor and Truitt – things get rather boring. They even get confusing, especially with the introduction of an otherwise likeable stripper, played by Zoe Kravitz, who sees an out from her unhappy job when Eli first uses his weapon at a strip club to save Jimmy. She travels with the two boys for awhile, contributing very little to the story and unfortunately messes up the otherwise good chemistry between the two brothers. Writing your only significant woman character (there’s also Carrie Coon as an FBI agent who has maybe one minute of screen time) in such a thin way is a clear misstep for any film.

More James Franco would have been a good thing, as the versatile actor essentially recreates the character he played in Spring Breakers although gets even darker here, becoming the main antagonist and staging a rather awesome finale which finally forces those sci-fi elements to come crashing into the film at full speed. Although by that point, it seems rather too late for the very exposition heavy sequence which is filled with tropes and feels like set-up for a possible sequel.

Still, when it the sci-fi does kick in the movie is a fun and thrilling ride. It looks incredible for it’s modest budget, and the solid cast help save the film in areas where it lags (save Kravitz who really isn’t given much of a chance to do anything). On the other hand, Kin has a hard time balancing it’s inventive premise and ends up coming across muddled towards the end.

TWO AND A HALF STARS OUT OF FIVE

Kin is out now.

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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review, an obsessive hip hop nerd, a whisky drinker, and a lover of all things travel. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter with @chrisdsingh.

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