In arguably one of the best episodes of the greatly undervalued show Party Down, Steve Guttenberg asks a question that is especially topical to a film like Kin: “Are science fiction and heart mutually exclusive?”
Granted, Guttenberg self-servingly answers by saying: “One word: Cocoon,” but the question still stands. In today’s world of Star Wars and The Meg, where are the science fiction films that embrace character development and use the futuristic elements as mere window dressing? It seems like many of these attempts have been relegated into movies aimed at kids, finished with poor execution. (I’m looking at you, The Darkest Minds.) But Kin is different. It’s by no means perfect, but it does tell a family story through a science fiction framework.
The film opens with ‘tween Eli (Myles Truitt) getting in trouble at school. He gets suspended, and his father is too busy to come pick him up. After catching a ride home from a teacher, Eli then sets out on his regular routine of stripping abandoned buildings for wire and selling the metal as scrap. In one building, he comes across the scene of what must have been some sort of battle, complete with dead bodies and stylish weapons. When he comes back the next day, the bodies are mysteriously gone, but one gun (at least, it almost looks like a gun) was left behind.
It might be possible to set the opening of a film like Kin in a place and time other than present-day Detroit, but in doing so the filmmakers add in a layer of desperation and dashed dreams. Honestly, seeing the film in Cleveland, just a few miles from a steel mill that lights up my drive home, puts a very specific perspective on these forgotten rust belt cities.
Eli and his dad (Dennis Quaid) are just getting by when older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) gets released from prison. Jimmy is clearly not done with his criminal past, and the first night home he slides right back in to old habits and bad gangs. Dad is no dummy and sees this coming as soon as Jimmy steps in the door. Just as Jimmy gets in over his head, his dad tries to save him from his old ways. Things go terribly wrong one night, and Jimmy heads out on the lam with Eli along for the ride. The criminals he wronged are after them, as well as the police, and the aliens (they look like aliens, anyway) after their weapon.
For a film involving some seriously cool science fiction weaponry and figures who are out of this world, Kin manages to keep itself grounded in the characters and their relationships. The gun comes in handy a few times, but the majority of the plot hinges on Jimmy and Eli’s relationship rather than investigating where the weapon came from or what it’s capable of. Eli is adopted, and barely knows Jimmy after he was locked away for so long. As these brothers bond and have a road trip, Jimmy never gets to escape the reality of his predicament, so they keep running.
Though Kin begs comparison to 2015’s Midnight Special, it’s not nearly as deftly crafted. The linear trajectory of the plot mirrors the straight line of the road trip, with few surprises along the way. Though the conclusion of the film doesn’t entirely flow with everything before it, it does deserve some credit for embracing the movie’s premise and diving deep with it.
The high concept and visual effects add a bit of science fiction to Kin, but don’t let that fool you. This is a film about family and loyalty, and it tells that tale well.