Billed as a film from the producers of Stranger Things, sci-fi drama Kin is an unusual proposition. With its 15 certificate, the debut feature from Australian directors Josh and Jonathan Baker is out of reach for the 12A crowd that might usually be considered the target audience for this kind of thing. But more than just targeting our nostalgic feels with a throwback sci-fi actioner, this is a slightly more ambitious genre hybrid.
Expanding upon the Baker boys’ 2014 short film Bag Man, the film finds a 14-year-old boy called Eli (newcomer Myles Truitt) as he searches for scrap, hoping to sell enough to buy new shoes. Along the way, he finds a bizarre piece of alien technology whose function and origin are a mystery. Like any sensible boy in a movie of this kind, he hangs onto it for safekeeping.
Back home, his adoptive dad Hal (Dennis Quaid, in full Uncle Ben mode) disapproves, but has bigger things to worry about. Eli’s big brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) has just finished a six-year spell in prison and he arrives home to a frosty reception. Unbeknownst to his family, drug lord Tay (James Franco) is after Jimmy for protection money, which leads to the two brothers going on a road trip carrying a large sum of cash and what turns out to be quite an advanced weapon.
It’s not uncommon for science fiction to put a new spin on the “boy and his dog” story. If E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial is about a boy and his alien and Transformersis about a boy and his car, then Kin could easily have been billed as another “boy and his alien gun” story. Fortunately, this sci-fi drama quickly grows out of that, focusing instead on the brotherly relationship of the leads.
While big-name players such as Quaid and Franco have slightly less screen time, Reynor is the film’s best asset. His character is by no means a smart guy, or even an especially likeable one. Nevertheless, he’s constantly watchable as a young man in a state of arrested development, telling lie after lie as he whisks his teenage brother with him as he runs away from his problems. It’s a testament to Reynor’s performance that we stay invested even as his character continually makes awful, immoral decisions.
With the crime drama coming to the fore, the sci-fi is weirdly low-key. While this is usually a consequence of budgetary restrictions, there’s a real sense that the film’s central dilemma that can’t be solved by guns, alien or otherwise. Holding his own next to Reynor, Truitt is utterly sympathetic even as the viewer is shown more than him throughout the drama.
At this grade, many indie sci-fi movies wind up feeling somewhat derivative. By its nature, Kinis unoriginal as a feature-length remake of a short, but it doesn’t overload on borrowed moments or Easter eggs either. From its elliptical opening scene to the climactic police station break-in, the film’s clearest influence is The Terminator, but only as a setting for the brotherly crime drama that unfolds. It’s inventive enough under its own steam and it subverts expectations nicely.
For instance, when it looks certain to fall afoul of certain clichés during a sojourn to a strip club, (because apparently, every young male sci-fi director wants to show us what the inside of a strip club should look like) it rallies by focusing on characters instead. While it doesn’t get out clean in this regard, there’s no leering over background eye candy.
It remains an unfortunate way to introduce Zoë Kravitz, who brings much more to exotic dancer Milly than exists on the page. But at the same time, it calls out Jimmy on his bad decisions, and on his assertion that this detour is a rite of passage, which means it’s not the worst use of an oft-used convention from both genres.
The major downfall of the film, as with so many genre films of the moment, is the point where its ambitions exceed the one movie that we’re likely to get. It starts by setting up a mystery that is not really satisfactorily resolved by the end, which instead brings about a twist that only invites further exploration. Where The Terminator was standalone at the time of its production, this feels like it wants a franchise to happen from the outset.
That aside, Kin gathers some interesting different bits in a unique package. With a mix of thoroughly engaging performances, innovative special effects sequences, and Mogwai’s ambient score, the sum of the movie’s wildly different parts is an eminently streamable watch. If all of this intrigues you enough to catch it on a big screen, it’s a good thing that the option is available, but it’s also a film that is head and shoulders above most of the other sci-fi films available on VOD.
Kin is now playing in Showcase Cinemas and is also available for Digital Download.