After directing a handful of fantastical short films, the duo of Josh and Jonathan Baker make their feature length debut with Kin. Adapted from their short Bag Man, the brothers have fashioned a slick sci-fi road movie on a minimal budget. It always fascinates be to see siblings working together to create a film, as I cant imagine ever being able to do so with siblings of my own, but given the thematic concerns of Kin–how we define family, and what we are willing to do to those in our tribe – it’s no wonder that siblings are at the heart of it all. Add to that the most bitchin laser gun this side of District 9, and you’ve got yourself a slightly-above-Netflix quality film with enough heart and style to make it easy to file any shortcomings under “first time filmmakers.”
Just about every young boy (and man-children like myself) dreams of owning the ultimate gadget. In Kin, it comes in the form of a mysterious laser cannon, stumbled upon by the teenaged Elijah (Myles Truitt). In an effort to bring a little extra income in to his single parent family, Eli often breaks into abandoned warehouses seeking sellable scrap metal. He ventures into one such venue only to find what looks like the aftermath of a live-action HALO battle, uniformed corpses and all. At first, the curious young man is quick to leave the cannon behind, but soon enough, curiosity gets the better of him, and he finds himself sneaking the weapon home in his bag. This same night, his adoptive brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) is fresh out of a prison sentence, and will be staying with Eli and his father (Dennis Quaid, who looks like he’s may explode any day now) until he can get his feet back on the ground.
But there’s a catch. Jimmy sought protection while on the inside to the tune of sixty thousand bucks, owed to a tatted up gangster named Taylor (James Franco, chewing every ounce of scenery he can get his gangly teeth on). Now that Jimmy is free, he’s being called upon to pay up. If he doesn’t, Taylor has no qualms taking the lives of both Dad and Eli as a form of payment. Naturally, things go sour pretty quickly, and now Eli and Jimmy are on the run, not just from the vengeful Taylor, but from a pair of mysterious masked beings with sights on Eli’s new toy.
Audiences should caution themselves from expecting a big budget science fiction actioner. The script, by Daniel Casey, is much less interested in the gun as a plot device, and much more interested in what it represents: unearned power. For Elijah, a quiet black teen, adopted into a troubled white family, it represents an ability to be noticed – to be in charge of the events of his life rather than just a passenger. For his older brother Jimmy, for whom the gun will not function, it represents a way out of his shitty life, and a way to bring his little brother into some skewed form of adulthood. So while there are some pretty cool effects-heavy moments (all of which are well shot and beautifully designed, budget considering), Kin is a road movie/family drama first and a laser gun zap-zap-pew-pew-kapow movie second.
With the film being such a slow burn, it’s hard not to notice the hamminess of some of the dialogue. The on-the-nose nature of the way pretty much every character speaks will likely be a dealbreaker for some (Dad is OBSESSED with how bad stealing is to the point where it seems to be the only life lesson he wishes to impart on his boys), but the performances are good enough to pave over such a thing for less discerning ears. There were a handful of lines which elicited a snicker from me, but for every one of those there were five that warmed my heart. In Free Fire, Jack Reynor was deemed “dramatic Seth Rogen,” and while that’s not wholly inaccurate, it’s clear with Kin that he’s bringing more to the table than just adjacently recognizable likability. His Jimmy is a complicated man who is a lot of fun to be around, even as we cringe at his endless train of well-intentioned mistakes.
Across the board these are believable characters in a unbelievable situation, and it’s the actors’ ability to treat it as real-world stuff which impresses most. Unfortunately, Truitt isn’t given much to do, at least not in an outwardly performative sense, and the movie is weaker for it. It’s clear as day that this kid has the goods, and while his Eli is a quiet character by design, I wish he weren’t relegated to playing second fiddle. The always wonderful Zoë Kravitz is criminally underused as well, playing the stripper with a heart of gold to the tune of a less squeaky clean manic pixie dream girl. That said, she elevates the role into something a little meatier than what’s on the page.
All in all, Kin is a strong debut from a team of green filmmakers. There are few things more joyous in the world of cinephilia than seeing hungry storytellers passionately milking every dollar out of a meager budget to deliver something both personal and fun, and on that front Kin is downright exciting!
Carrie Coon is in it too and I really wish they gave my wife a bit more screen time.
Kin opens today in Philly theaters.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.