While “Kindred” does sometimes feel true-enough to life—it was partly inspired by the real-life experiences of director Joe Marcantonio, his co-writer Jason McColgan, and (presumably) their respective spouses—it’s also so dramatically inert that each new narrative development feels like a slight variation on the last one. I know that watching Charlotte try and fail to escape her in-laws is supposed to be painful, but I didn’t get much out of watching her repeatedly slam her head into the same figurative wall, in the same metaphorical spot, and never really understand or advance beyond a very obvious thematic point.
Charlotte is often beholden to her equally un-nuanced relatives as they do things on her behalf, but against her will. She also has a history of mental illness on her mother’s side of the family, but it’s barely touched upon since Marcantonio and McColgan tend to focus on Charlotte’s distressing relationship with her in-laws. She’s always wobbly on her feet, and rarely given time enough to recover before another plot contrivance drives her back into Margaret and/or Thomas’ waiting arms. An unpleasant pattern of reciprocal (though clearly unbalanced) antagonism forms, and always for the sake of establishing—and re-establishing—a credible power struggle. Sometimes, being forced to assimilate into an abusive family is not only not in your best interest, but also not easy to leave behind.
Charlotte seems to know this from the start of “Kindred,” which is probably why she and her late husband Ben (Edward Holcroft) tried, before his accidental death, to flee to Australia. Margaret, naturally, dislikes this idea, and protests unambiguously: “You’re not stealing my own flesh and blood to the other side of the planet.” Margaret talks like this even when Shaw’s periodically wobbly tone suggests that her character really doesn’t want to be mean. Still: Margaret is a domineering villain, the kind who’s defined not only by her insidious actions—she sells Charlotte and Ben’s house while Charlotte recuperates from various physical stresses—but also her obnoxious dialogue, like when Margaret says that she “really envies” Charlotte’s pregnancy, or when she says that Ben, a white man, always “loved animals. He was always chasing after them, whether they liked it or not.” Charlotte is Black, by the way, so Margaret’s motives are a little too plain.