Nothing goes right in Kindred, the new suspense thriller about a pregnant widow who finds herself moving in with her in-laws. Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) is gutted by the tragic death of her boyfriend Ben, when their romantic plans to move to Australia together are dashed. After the funeral, his mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw) insists — politely, but forcefully, with a slight sneer — that Charlotte stay in the family home, a creepily cavernous, drafty estate. Living with Margaret is Ben’s stepbrother Thomas (Jack Lowden), who is just a little too willing to be at Margaret’s beck and call. The house isn’t haunted, but it feels like it’s possessed by all the family’s secrets and tragedies. And so Charlotte lives there, baby growing in her belly, with the increasing feeling that she’s been trapped — by the family, by her own hallucinations, by her grief, by her ambivalence about being pregnant in the first place.
Pregnancy in horror movies is well-trod territory, but Kindred is still a compelling watch, mostly due to the performances of the three leads. Lawrance, as the ardent and desperate young mother, anchors the movie. “I thought it was interesting that she’s amaternal,” Lawrance says over the phone one recent afternoon. “That’s a depiction of a young woman that we don’t see very often. Maternity is presumed to be an innate thing that everybody is hoping for at some point in their life. I liked that she didn’t want to have kids.” But for as much as Kindred is the story of Charlotte’s isolation, it’s a three-hander: She shares just as many scenes being lectured or gaslit by Shaw’s cruel sneers and Lowden’s prying eyes. Lawrance gives her character an undercurrent of disquiet, like she doesn’t quite trust herself, but she trusts her situation even less. Lawrance talked to Vulture about the movie’s suspense, Shaw’s “playful ingenuity,” and running around that big creepy house.
Some light spoilers below.
How did Kindred come to you?
It came to me through Jack, who co-produced and played Thomas. He’s also a friend of mine. In 2018, we did a TV project together, and then he was like, “So there’s this script I’m co-producing. I think you’d be really good for the girlfriend.” I read it, and then I came in and I auditioned for a couple of rounds. A little while after that, I found out that I got the role.
What did you think when you first read the script?
I thought it was really intriguing. I keep saying I was drawn to the ambiguity of it. I like that it subverts your expectations, that you can’t really trust anyone. You spend a lot of the film not being sure if the villains are really antagonistic or if they are speaking in someone’s best interest, which is obviously quite disorientating for the viewer — which gives them Charlotte’s experience. I liked that, and I liked that she was somebody that was quite alien in the world that she was in.
How else did you imagine Charlotte’s inner life?
I imagined her to be someone who is quite brave and resilient, but a bit rough around the edges, as it were. So somebody who’s gonna come into this world, but not change who she is. She’s so removed from anything that’s potentially familiar, but sometimes I imagined that familiarity was quite triggering. She abandoned herself from her childhood and the communities that she grew up in because of whatever happened in her past. I think that made sense as to what the love of her boyfriend meant to her, or their desire to go to Australia meant to her. And then I did research into postnatal depression, perinatal depression, the influence of drugs on the body, what pregnancy does to mental health as well. Collaboratively, with Joe and Jack, we talked through the scenes, changed some of the lines, and maybe improvised loosely to build a dynamic between them that felt more natural.
Between Charlotte and Thomas?
Between her and Thomas, and her and Margaret. It was nice because the latter half of the film feels a bit like a three-hander. So we’re all just playing tennis, essentially. Scenes that are very important are all in vignettes — you don’t often see the three of them together as the film goes on. It’s kind of like Charlotte’s just catching them both in isolation, which also adds to her sense of disempowerment. She has to try and get one-up on either of them separately.
I’m very curious about that. Charlotte is being ganged up on, individually by Thomas and Margaret. Did it feel intimidating to work under that pressure of just constantly being gaslit?
No, I mean, I was as nervous as you would be acting with Fiona Shaw. [Laughs.] But apart from that, no, it wasn’t intimidating. I think there was a little trust and playfulness between Jack and I, because we are friends. Fiona has a very playful ingenuity and she’s a very spontaneous, super-creative woman. There were ideas always coming out in the moment. Each scene is a conversation with questions. So I didn’t feel like this is going to be difficult in terms of working with those people.
As the character, I imagine that Charlotte felt it in her gut, that she knew instinctively that she wasn’t safe, which is why she never relented as time went on. At any given point she’s trying to escape, which I think is testament to her courage and also the strength of her intuition.
There’s also this powerful theme of grief as a horrific and very isolating experience. Can you tell me about those scenes, like filming the boyfriend’s funeral?
There were a lot of supporting actors from Ireland, and I just tried to keep to myself. Joe was setting up a very interesting shot where I had to stand facing a different direction to everyone else. I was like, Oh, this feels kind of odd. Because I wasn’t facing the grave. But when I saw later, I saw what he was trying to do — to show that she was completely in her own world of grief. It’s really sad. It’s really hard because the death is so sudden, so tragic, and so violent. Charlotte immediately becomes completely helpless. She doesn’t only lose her partner, but she’s also with a child that she doesn’t want, and her passport is missing, and the gates are locked.
And she’s homeless! Margaret just barges in randomly and says that her home with Ben has been sold.
Exactly! Exactly. That bit in the film was really … it was a lot to carry emotional-weight-wise. But I think it was a nice antithesis to the scenes with Ed, who plays Ben, which I really enjoyed shooting. [The scenes] gently showed a day in the life of just true love, despite the odds. They have kind of a weird love story of people who are from really different social strata that are both trying to leave it behind and make a new life for themselves. It’s sad — I feel like there’s a lot of hope at the start of the film and then all of a sudden, it’s completely flipped.
Do you think Charlotte and Ben sort of related to each other over complicated relationships with their mothers?
Yes, I do. I think that they bonded in terms of familial angst and resentment. I think they bonded over, sort of, an anti-austerity, anti-hierarchy kind of vibe. People who are anti-establishment. I think both of them bonded over wanting to live a simple life with much more agency and freedom. The desire to go to Australia is really to start a new lease on life, to really take her life into her own hands rather than being in her partner’s world. I think they had an understanding of the need to care for each other in a way that they weren’t cared for in their upbringings.
How much do you feel like the Margaret character’s distrust or anxieties related to Charlotte were because she’s black?
I don’t know. I think that’s more of a question for Fiona. I don’t know, because on one level, like, this wasn’t written racialized in any way. All of the hostility between them was there on paper. But obviously me being a black person adds an interesting kind of racial undertone, or overturn. But there’s an argument that she would have hated anybody that married her son because she wants to keep possessing him.
Was that house as creepy as it looked?
[Laughs.] Yes, it was. All of the cutaways to, like, taxidermy and spider cobwebs and fraying curtains. That’s all real. The set designer didn’t have much to do apart from changing wallpaper in one room. The grounds — and I don’t know how many acres they had, but it was extensive — host a festival once a year. All sorts of things could happen in any corner of that land and nobody would know about it. That’s what freaked me out the most is that this family probably has centuries of secrets, buried on this very land. It helped me to understand Margaret’s obsession with maintaining the family name and keeping the house alive because there’s dirty laundry that nobody else can ever be a party to.