Jonathan and Josh Baker’s directorial debut, Kin, is just further proof that not all short films deserve the feature-length treatment. The inspiration comes from the brothers’ 14-minute short called Bag Man, which is available in the Special Features section of the Kin Blu-ray. Bag Man tells the story of a troubled boy living at home with his widowed mother. He carries around a bag, which, it later reveals, contains a high-powered weapon that can destroy vehicles and incinerate any individual that comes within its path. By the short film’s end, the viewer is left with intrigue and craving more. This leads us to Kin, which has the promise of something unique and captivating, but carries every single sci-fi and family drama trope with it.
Kin is, essentially, the same premise as Bag Man, but it gives viewers more of a setup as to how the main character, Elijah (Myles Truitt), stumbles across the gun. Elijah is a troubled kid in Detroit, whose parents have passed on, and he is now living with his adopted father, Hal (Dennis Quaid). Hal tries to connect with Elijah, but nothing seems to be working. It truly shows that Hal is having trouble when Quaid is given lines such as, “If I’m hard on you, it’s because the world is hard.” No kid really wants to hear their father, adoptive or biological, utter such a cookie-cutter line as a way to connect with them.
To earn some side money under the radar, Elijah goes from one abandoned building to the next, gathering as much copper wire as he can. In one building, he comes across numerous dead bodies of what look to be futuristic soldiers. Next to one is a giant blaster that, as Elijah later finds out, can cause some serious damage to anything that crosses its path.
Back at home, Elijah’s brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor), is an ex-con whose sentence has come to an end, and he is now a free man who gets to start his life over again. But conflict between Jimmy and Hal, Jimmy’s biological father, quickly begins. Jimmy explains how he spent many years in jail, but only got one visit to be informed that his mother had died. Jimmy then says he wants to help the family, but the propositions he gives his father are deemed unacceptable by Hal’s standards. We’re not even 30 minutes into the movie, and Kin has already pounded the viewer to death with basic family drama nonsense. It’s such a pity to see Reynor and Quaid go at it with generic lines and unconvincing performances. Both actors have proven to be incredible in previous films, but can’t quite find anything to work with here.
Jimmy finds himself in financial trouble, when it turns out he owes $60,000 to a crime lord named Taylor (James Franco, channeling a cheesy, villainous from early 2000s). Jimmy is doing all he can to get the money to Taylor without Hal finding out, but that doesn’t quite work out and things take a turn for the worse. Jimmy and Elijah then take a road trip to Tahoe to escape it all. Jimmy does as much bonding with Elijah as he can, to help take his mind off of things. One of them is taking him to a strip club, in which he gives him all the soda he wants and opens up his mind to the world of female objectification. And, again, Jimmy gets himself into a bit of trouble with someone - this time, it’s the bar owner - and finds himself in a fight. Elijah stands up for his brother by pulling out the big blaster he has with him and showing off its power.
While all of this is happening, the viewer is subjected to a subplot in which a group of futuristic characters are tracking down Elijah and the gun. We don’t know anything about these characters or what their purpose is in the movie until the last 15 minutes or so when a twist is revealed. Before then, the viewer is lost and uninterested in the subplot. And then, when the twist comes, that’s when it’s realized that Kin could have been something cool if it found the right focus.
While Kin is a total misfire, the Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy package being released is handled surprisingly nicely for a new release. Most modern-day films are thrown to Blu-ray with only a few features that last 10 minutes altogether. Kin, on the other hand, comes with nearly four hours worthy of features. The Bakers definitely deserve some kind of recognition for giving the physical-media collectors lots of stuff to watch outside of the movie. Some of the features include the short film Bag Man, on which Kin is based. There’s also an eight-part documentary titled Thicker than Water, which explores the making of Kin. Just that feature, when all eight segments are combined, runs at nearly two hours. The Bakers and screenwriter Daniel Casey provide audio commentary for the film, and there is another feature that breaks down all the visual effects of Kin. Another featurette called ”Learned Behavior” has the Baker brothers talking with other filmmakers, including Clerks director Kevin Smith, about the importance of special features for a movie.
Kin is an aimless mess from the start, but there are some neat ideas sprinkled throughout that could have worked if it was handled better. By the end, there’s a tease that the Bakers give the viewer, possibly indicating that a sequel will be coming. It’s doubtful, since Kin was a critical and commercial flop, and the film seems to have been made as a setup for future entries. If it focused more on just being a one-and-done type of sci-fi effort, and also found out exactly where it wanted to go, there could have been something unique in Kin. With the Blu-ray, though, it’s nice to see that there was a lot of effort put into it, rather than just dumping it with very few features like so many other newer films get.
Kin releases to Blu-ray from Lionsgate on November 20.