'Kin' Early Buzz: Violent, Sci-Fi Coming Of Age Story Falls Flat

Jonathan and Josh Baker's debut feature Kin is an expansion of their short film Bag Man, a sci-fi coming-of-age story about a young boy who finds an oversized alien gun. The feature version, which features the boy and his brother on the run across the country with the gun in tow, has a stacked cast, including veterans like Dennis Quaid, Jack Reynor, Zoe Kravitz, Carrie Coon, and James Franco and newcomer Myles Truitt in the lead.

Now, the first reviews of the movie have arrived in advance of its theatrical release later this week. Check out what critics are saying about Kin below.

Here's the trailer, just so we're all on the same page. (I'd somehow never seen this, even though we wrote about it on /Film back in April.)

Kin Early Buzz

Let's start with a reaction from /Film managing editor Jacob Hall, who seemed to really enjoy the movie – especially its wild third act:

But unfortunately, that's where the enthusiasm seems to end. Todd Gilchrist at The Wrap had positive things to say about the lead actor's performance, but sadly not much else:

On television, "Kin" could have been a successful backdoor pilot about two estranged brothers, two motorcycle-riding Daft Punk copycats, a heavily-tattooed James Franco, and the road trip that brings them all together.

On film, it has all of the weird, irresponsible potential of a "Boondock Saints" franchise, insisting that there's something substantial, cultural climate be damned, in its punky adolescent fantasy about an orphaned black kid who finds a laser pistol...

Truitt demonstrates a quiet intensity that audiences will immediately identify with, and which promises terrific things from the young actor, but he's forced to make believable a sequence of events that barely seem interconnected; the Baker brothers want this to be both a gritty family drama and a sci-fi-laced adventure, but through no fault of Triutt's — and in fact, despite his admirable effort — the underlying emotions simply do not track. Meanwhile, there's little else to do while Kravitz is on screen than wonder why someone as talented as she sought the role of a stripper-turned-babysitter whose biggest scene involves taking a personal inventory of abuse to bond with a teenager.

Katie Walsh at New York Daily News gave the movie two stars, calling it "a prototypical August movie" and seemingly finding herself numbed by the experience of watching it:

The violence in the film's third act is shocking, and it strains both the suspension of disbelief and the laughable, honestly shameful PG-13 rating. Once again, "Kin" proves to not be one thing or the other, defying any clear genre or demographic boundaries. It's not a blockbuster or a heroic young adult tale (though a last-minute button indicates at least the film thinks it is). It's just a devastatingly sad and terrible story about two brothers who make bad choices, suffer the consequences and lose the last shreds of family they have left. No amount of 11th hour twists, reveals or bigger ideas can shake that inescapable feeling of dread and sorrow.

Tim Grierson at ScreenDaily said Kin "never feels like more than uninspired borrowings from other, better genre films; it's a story about family without any heart." The nicest thing he had to say was a bit about James Franco's villain:

As the film's principal villain, Franco delivers a knockoff of his far more startling and flamboyant turn in Spring Breakers: Here he's merely a slimeball with a snarl. (That said, it is amusingly bizarre that this heel enjoys taking a moment during a tense scene to sing along with Joni Mitchell's "Help Me" on the radio.) But at least Franco tries to give Kin a pulse, whereas most of his co-stars bring only a blah earnestness to their roles. Quaid's stern father leaves little impression, while Kravitz shows none of the electricity she demonstrated in Mad Max: Fury Road and Dope.

Sheri Linden at The Hollywood Reporter damns the movie with faint praise:

Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, expanding upon their 2014 short Bag Man and working from a screenplay by Daniel Casey, have more or less melded together a coming-of-age adventure, family drama, sci-fi mystery, road trip, revenge saga and crime thriller. The pieces fit together neatly, with no whiz-bang fuss. What's missing, though, is the necessary urgency to propel the action. Having lit the narrative fuse, the helmers don't always manage to keep it burning, and the intended emotional payoff arrives more as tacked-on explanation than revelatory sock to the solar plexus. You can appreciate the filmmakers' instincts and much of what they bring to the screen, and look forward to their next outing, while wishing that this debut feature were truly transporting.

Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty really hated this movie, giving it an "F" rating and calling it irresponsible because of its subject matter and rating:

This dangerous adventure is meant to be pulse-pounding and heartwarming in equal measure. But I couldn't stop thinking about the film's deeply troubling underlying message long enough for my pulse to pound or my heart to warm. Because, make no mistake, Kinis a movie about a child with an all-powerful firearm that makes him feel important and special and powerful. On a one-to-ten scale of moral fecklessness, this ranks about a thousand.

You could argue – and I imagine that the filmmakers will – that plenty of contemporary movies feature more guns and bigger guns that fire off more rounds. But here's why that argument doesn't wash: Those movies carry R ratings and are meant for adult audiences who, in theory, know the difference between right and wrong, escapism and reality. Kin, on the other hand, is rated PG-13. And its hero – the one with the gun only he can fire and does fire quite a bit – is 14. Let me repeat that: He is 14. That's three years younger than Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were when they went on their killing spree at Columbine High School and six years younger than Adam Lanza was when he murdered 27 kids and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. You can disagree with this reviewer's take on Kin and what it's saying both explicitly and implicitly about guns. But I can't and won't recommend it in good conscience.

Here's one final positive thing to leave you with: Jacob Knight at Birth.Movies.Death gave the soundtrack a nice shout-out.

One of Kin's few saving graces is the fact that the Bakers were somehow able to convince Scottish prog rock masters Mogwai to contribute a rather fine original score. Fans of the band's loud/quiet/loud dynamic will be pleased to learn that their OST fundamentally sounds like a new Mogwai record, filled with moody pianos and rumbling drums, before guitars explode along with Eli's newfound laser cannon. Mogwai's sonic textures have always been romantically apocalyptic, and here they elevate scenes that would've otherwise fallen flat, had the post-rock legends not picked them up via their trademark deafening textures.

Ultimately, this sounds like it's kind of a dud. That's a bummer, because it definitely has potential and it sounds like it was intended to be the start of a franchise. We'll have to wait and see if the movie makes enough waves to warrant a sequel.

Kin opens in theaters on August 31, 2018