Marie (Corinna Jones) finds a little boy covered in blood wandering the highway when out for a morning run. Of course, she calls the police right away and tries to help this boy as much as possible. This includes the eventual adoption of Winters (Isaiah Dell), whose amnesia makes it quite tricky to figure out his background. Unfortunately, the adoption doesn’t bode well with Marie’s producer husband Alan (Patrick Cupo).
Several years later, now a young adult, Winters (Ethan Smart) is an agoraphobic sound designer who is much in demand. However, when a recording he’s making of his neighbors sounds like murder, memories of his tortured childhood come flooding back. The mystery of what happened then and now is at the heart of director Adrian Leon’s Kin Dread.
The thriller’s screenplay, by Leon and Steven Clayton, clearly owes a debt to Hitchcock’s beloved Rear Window. Both films are primarily set in one central location, with a character trapped there for one reason or another. Of course, the claims of murder are not believable by those around the lead at first, though more and more odd circumstances prove they are probably correct. None of this should imply that the screenwriters are treading old water, as they’ve thrown in several new elements and mixed up others for the production to feel fresh and original.
“…when a recording he’s making of his neighbors sounds like murder, memories of his tortured childhood come flooding back.”
For starters, the story structure keeps viewers hooked. Not only are there flashbacks to Winters’ repressed memories of trauma, but also his early life with Marie and Alan. These moments add greater depth to both the lead’s current life as well as his relationship with Alan specifically. Though the scene-stealers are handyman Leonard (Kevin Owyang) and the audiophile Winters has a connection to Jane (Elinor Gunn). Leonard adds much-needed levity and gives the main character a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. Jane allows the manufactured world of Winters to give in slightly, as he has impulses that cannot be controlled, try as he might.
Of course, it is the cast of Kin Dread that allows these characters to be so memorable. Smart wisely plays Winters sincerely, acknowledging his awkwardness with others. Viewers empathize with him even as he’s being a jerk, manipulating people, and/or pushing those close to him away. It is a balancing act that both the actor and writers walk confidently together. Adding him is the supporting cast, with Owyang overcoming the seemingly cliched parts of his role to be a real standout. While tricky, Cupo brings real understanding and a fierce sort of warmth to Alan, which could not have been easy.
As a director, Leon shows a lot of promise, as the flashy editing and vibrant, colorful lighting never gets in the way of the intense plot. The visuals serve the story, not the other way around, as can be the case sometimes. Of course, given the importance of sound to several of the characters, this title must have killer sound design, or else so much of the dialogue would feel clunky and unwarranted. Sound supervisor David Rodriguez and his team deliver brilliantly here, with the sounds Winters record being both calming and dangerous at the same time.
Kin Dread might owe to some of the great thrillers of yesteryear, but that shouldn’t be taken as a flaw. Leon takes what works about those classic films and uses them to craft something original and engaging. The plot is tightly wound, and the impressive cast keeps the mystery shrouded for as long as possible.
"…the visuals serve the story, not the other way around..."