While I sat riveted to young pregnant Charlotte’s imprisonment by her mother-in-law and brother-in-law after her husband’s sudden accidental death, I often thought of two films where the heroine is trapped by her conservative in-laws into an inescapable allegiance.
One was Not Without My Daughter where Sally Field tries to escape her husband’s tyrannical family and the other was the same film’s unofficial Bollywood remake Shakti where Karisma Kapoor tries to flee from her demented father-in-law with her child.
Kindred is more creepy than both the above films. Its whiplash suspense is constantly ‘choler’-coordinated. The heroine Charlotte(Tamara Lawrance, superbly clued-in to the fright rites) is seen to be seething in rage all the time , as her despotic mother-in-law(the brilliant Fiona Shaw) pumps up the angst to an unbearable degree.
As Charlotte’s confinement grows more intense the script coils and recoils its tentacles around her predicament without preening or gloating in the way horror movies generally do, deriving a perverse pleasure in the protagonist’s fears. More than the horror of being held against her will it is the whole class difference that underlines Charlotte’s immediate horror which frightens us.
That Charlotte is black immediately puts her in a specially vulnerable position vis a vis her snobbish upperclass mother-in-law . There is a lengthy monologue of the mother-in-law where she tells Charlotte that her dead son always liked chasing animals. The racial subtext of this horrifying monologue is not lost on the audience.
This upperclass British woman whose beloved son married beneath him will take revenge with the help of her other morally dithering son(the adept Jack Lowden). As the mother-in-law’s intentions grow nakedly clear, the plot gets progressively submissive to the habitual suspense tropes, like a bestfreind who betrays Charlotte, a seemingly sympathetic doctor(played by a Pakistani British actress Kiran Sonia Sawar) who squeals on Charlotte , etc.
Then there is her brother-in-law whom Charlotte begins to manipulate to her own advantage. These are tawdry tricks of terror from horror films that this refined representation of the genre could have avoided. But then maybe the director shares Charlotte’s aversion for refinement as defined by British class definitions.
What remains in Kindred is still strong and powerful. The three central performances are exceptional. The way Fiona Shaw takes on Tamara Lawrance is not just believable it is intimidating. At heart this is one one Saas-Bahu drama, albeit one that we didn’t see coming.
Image source: IMDb