Josh and Jonathan Baker, 2018, USA
Against a backdrop of low-income struggle and a scenery of deserted buildings, black teenager Eli goes scrapping and finds an alien rifle. Meanwhile, his white brother returns from prison to a tetchy father’s homecoming but still has issues with local and lethal lowlife.
A Tough Love father, a wayward but fun older brother and a stripper with a heart-of-gold. A hint of “chosen one” syndrome. And a ray-gun. With all these elements, the Baker brothers’ ‘Kin’ acts as a full-blooded young male adult fantasy. In this sense, it’s best evaluated as young adult fiction that still has a lot of maturing and self-reflecting to do.
Besides this, the problem seems to be for many commentators that it’s also made up of a blend of genres and the argument is that it satisfies none. Part indie crime drama, part road journey, part sci-fi, part coming-of-age family drama. But such a mash-up is fine by me and keeps things on its toes. It reminds me of such eighties favourites as ‘Tron’, ‘The Last Starfighter’ and ‘Flight of the Navigator’ where a slightly dull and tatty real world gives way to special-effects and Chosen One excitement. I’m far more likely to raise an eyebrow buying into the idea that a ragtag group of bad guys would attack a police station; or that it probably stays too long in the nudity free strip-club where Jimmy (Jack Reynor) acts like an asshole and gets them into trouble. But the genre-blending that might not quite gel and yet marks it out as likable entertainment is surely a central pleasure of genre b-movies: the lack of genre mainstream conformity often redeems the failings and rough edges.
I’m amused at ‘Kin’ acquiring a “not present” grade on commonsensemedia for “consumerism” as we spend a long time in a strip club (but no actual stripping): surely the selling of objectified women qualifies? And then, of course, the central theme of “a magic gun makes boy heroic” is greatly problematic. The film is weak in self-reflection in these areas and leads Glenn Kenny to see it as “insufferable, self-seriously combining shut-in nerdiness with wannabe macho pyrotechnics. It’s Bro Cinema in all the worst imaginable senses of the term.” Well, I wouldn’t say insufferable, more that it has b-movie charm despite these obvious flaws. I certainly found it less obnoxious than McG’s ‘The Babysitter’ (2017, NetFlix), another male teen fantasy (again, ‘Kin’ reminds me of those eighties young adult flicks). I also probably find it a less stupid male teen fantasy than ‘John Wick’. It helps that it is boosted by the inclusion of two veterans that know this turf well with Dennis Quaid and Jesse Franco, but it’s the unassuming appeal of Myles Truitt as young Eli that grounds the freewheeling drama.
Even with its streak of immaturity, ‘Kin’ still contains comic fun and charm, even if it is distinctly less than its promise.