It’s no surprise that directing brothers Josh and Jonathan Baker expanded Kin from a short film (their 2014 effort Bag Man), because there clearly isn’t enough in the story to sustain a feature film. A morose drama about two delinquent brothers, Kin occasionally stops to check in on an underdeveloped sci-fi movie along the way, and neither approach is particularly satisfying.
After an opening that features the aftermath of some high-tech battle between mysterious black-clad figures, Kin settles into its more subdued mode as it follows teenager Elijah (Myles Truitt) getting in trouble at school, scrounging for scrap in abandoned buildings in his Detroit neighborhood, and being lectured by his adoptive father Hal (Dennis Quaid, on fatherly autopilot). While picking up scraps, he discovers the bodies of some of those unknown soldiers, who might be aliens or cyborgs or travelers from the future, and picks up one of their giant ray guns, like it’s just another piece of salvaged metal.
You’d think that a giant ray gun (which, for some reason, only Elijah is able to use) would change the course of the story dramatically, but it stays tucked away for the majority of the movie, while the action focuses on Elijah’s ex-con older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor), who’s just been released from prison and owes a bunch of money to some dangerous people. Jimmy makes pretty much every terrible choice imaginable, soon entangling Elijah in his misfortune and incurring the wrath of cartoonish crime boss Taylor (James Franco).
The brothers end up on the run from Taylor, picking up an absurdly kind-hearted stripper named Milly (Zoë Kravitz) on their journey. In the meantime, a couple of the alien/cyborg/future/whatever guys are in extremely slow pursuit of their missing weapon, and the movie returns to them for a scene every 10-15 minutes, if that. It’s hard to feel the urgency of this unknown threat when the movie itself seems to forget about it for the bulk of the running time.
That would be less of a problem if the family drama were more compelling, but neither Truitt nor Reynor has much presence, and they never convincingly build the central sibling bond. Jimmy is so clearly responsible for all of their problems that it’s hard to root for him to get away, or for him and Elijah to get closer. The movie hints at deeper issues of race, class and grief, but the screenplay by Daniel Casey never delves beneath the surface of any of them.
It’s not much of a thriller, either, despite Franco’s typically hammy performance and a surprising amount of violence (albeit of the bloodless sci-fi kind). The climax, set in an understaffed police station, pays homage to the original Terminator, which also foreshadows the final twist, an absurd rush of exposition (along with a distracting surprise cameo) that dumps all of the sci-fi intrigue into the final few minutes. It recontextualizes the entire movie as a drawn-out prologue for a sequel that will almost certainly never arrive.
Thanks to the sleek Mogwai score and the appealingly understated visual effects, Kin often has the feel of a stylish music video (it makes sense that the Bakers got their start working in commercials). The substance, however, never catches up with the style.