From left, Jack Lowden, Fiona Shaw and the excellent Tamara Lawrance star in “Kindred.” (Courtesy IFC Films)

From left, Jack Lowden, Fiona Shaw and the excellent Tamara Lawrance star in “Kindred.” (Courtesy IFC Films)

Superb lead performance boosts creepy ‘Kindred’

‘Koko-Di Koko-Da’ an intriguing, sinister fantasy

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A pregnant woman struggles to break free from her dead fiancé’s family members, who have taken away her right to choose, and kept her captive for the “good of the baby,” in “Kindred.” Opening Friday on video on demand, it’s an uneven psychological-domestic-horror thriller boosted by a stellar lead performance.

Writer-director Joe Marcantonio, co-scripting with Jason McColgan, combines elements of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Hereditary” and “The Birds,” while touching on issues such as gaslighting and reproductive rights, in this feature debut. The setting is the U.K., the tone is light gothic, and Tamara Lawrance, the primary reason to check out this film, stars as Charlotte.

Charlotte plans to move to Australia with her fiancé, Ben (Edward Holcroft), who wants to get as far away as possible from his controlling mother, Margaret (Fiona Shaw). Margaret comes from a long line of aristocrats and expects Ben to take over the crumbling Scottish estate where she lives with obedient stepson Thomas (Jack Lowden). Margaret resents Charlotte, for reasons that appear related less to race or class than to the belief that Charlotte has stolen Ben from her.

When Charlotte discovers she is pregnant, she intends to have an abortion, in part because her mother experienced perinatal psychosis. But before she can go through with the procedure, Ben dies in an accident, and Charlotte finds herself under the watch of Margaret and Thomas.

The pair tell Charlotte that they are overseeing her pregnancy care. The baby, being Ben’s, will carry on the family bloodline, and abortion, in Margaret’s book, isn’t an option.

Charlotte also learns that she no longer has a house to return home to, and that Thomas has taken possession of her “broken” phone. Basically, she’s trapped at the claustrophobic manor.

Gaslighted by Margaret, Thomas and their creepy doctor (Anton Lesser), who tell her they know what’s best for her, Charlotte starts questioning her own judgment. At the same time, she harbors reasonable suspicions. Are Margaret and Thomas holding her against her will? Drugging her? Do they have plans of their own for the baby?

Stressed, grief-stricken and worried that she’s inherited her mother’s psychosis, Charlotte starts having dark dreams. Raven-like omen-associated birds haunt her thoughts.

The drama is most effective when depicting emotional aspects of Charlotte’s situation — how gaslighting weakens her self-assurance, or how, needing companionship, she exchanges personal stories with Thomas, though she knows she can’t trust him.

The film also benefits from how Marcantonio builds and sustains dramatic intensity. The filmmaker generates palpable horror without jump scares or supernatural elements. Long camera takes allow Charlotte’s predicament to creepily affect us.

The movie fares less successfully as a domestic melodrama and kidnap thriller. The action, which consists mostly of Charlotte repeatedly fleeing and getting captured, becomes less compelling. The climax is underwhelming.

Margaret, though the screenwriters have given her a humanizing monologue, which Shaw delivers beautifully, is largely an overbearing-mother caricature.

Lowden, whose Thomas always seems to be making lunch, has a bit more to work with, but the movie belongs to Lawrance’s Charlotte. The rising young actor makes her character so multifaceted, human and deserving, we stick seriously with her even when the screenplay falters.

REVIEW

Kindred

★★1/2

Starring: Tamara Lawrance, Jack Lowden, Fiona Shaw, Edward Holcroft

Written by: Joe Marcantonio, Jason McColgan

Directed by: Joe Marcantonio

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

A vicious dog terrorizes a couple in “Koko-Di Koko-Da” by Swedish filmmaker Johannes Nyholm. (Courtesy Dark Star Pictures)

A vicious dog terrorizes a couple in “Koko-Di Koko-Da” by Swedish filmmaker Johannes Nyholm. (Courtesy Dark Star Pictures)

Swedish writer-director Johannes Nyholm doesn’t quite wow with surprises, but displays darkly impressive personal touches as he takes his characters through the terror wringer, in the sinister fantasy “Koko-Di Koko-Da”; it streams Friday in select virtual cinemas and comes to video on demand on Dec. 8.

The horror picture and marital drama centers on a couple — Elin (Ylva Gallon) and Tobias (Leif Edlund) — who have experienced a terrible loss. A compelling set-up sequence reveals the tragedy.

Nyholm then flashes ahead three years and shifts into surrealist gear. Elin and Tobias, their marriage now crumbling, have embarked on what they hope will be a healing camping trip. But as they drive into the isolated woods and pitch a tent, uh-oh is all we (correctly) think.

The two experience a nightmare in which three sadistic carnies and a vicious dog violently and lethally terrorize them. They have the same dream, with slight variations, repeatedly.

Stuck in a loop, they cannot escape their predicament unless they work though their grief.

Profound this movie isn’t, and the “Groundhog Day”-like repetitions, which continue for a considerable spell, come close to becoming tedious.

Overall, however, Nyholm’s dreamlike weirdness is engrossing.

Magic-lantern-style animated passages imaginatively reflect the couple’s mental states and illustrate how grief can ruin relationships and diminish humanity.

Overhead shots convey the pair’s trapped predicament.

Nyholm also, somewhat in the vein of “Force Majeure,” presents believable spousal dynamics.

Such pluses more than compensate for the lack of depth.

The title refers to a music-box nursery rhyme that, presented by Nyholm, is creepy, creepy.

REVIEW

Koko-Di Koko-Da

★★★

Starring: Ylva Gallon, Leif Edlund, Peter Belli

Written and directed by: Johannes Nyholm

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

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