When burgeoning filmmakers are trying to break into Hollywood, they often make short films that showcase their style. Many filmmakers use the tactic of ending their shorts on a cliffhanger—that way, studios hungry for talent also develop an appetite for an ending, and their desire to see the story end might make them more likely to contact the filmmakers. It’s essentially a marketing tool. Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker successfully engaged in that practice with their short “Bag Man”, which has been developed into the feature film “Kin”.
“Kin” tells the story of two brothers: one has recently been released from prison, and the other recently found a giant alien gun in an abandoned warehouse. Older brother Jimmy hasn’t seen adopted brother Elijah in six years, but that’s not the only reason their relationship is strained—their strict, single father doesn’t want Jack around. Also, Jack owes six thousand dollars to a crime lord (James Franco) who is threatening to kill Jack’s family, and his father isn’t willing to help pay off the debt. They’re the typical 21st century family.
Oh, and did I mention that Elijah recently found a giant alien gun in an abandoned warehouse? “Kin” is technically a sci-fi movie, but other than the unexplained gun that’s been injected into the plot, it largely revolves around brotherly bonding during a road trip. This road trip is borne out of necessity, as Jack is trying to save Elijah from the gang on their heels without his little brother knowing about any of it.
During this journey, the rugged charm of “Kin” gives it a unique flavor. Irish actor Jack Reynor—who had previous big brother experience in the terrific musical “Sing Street”—has the makings of a bona fide star. He adds genuine gravitas to moments big and small, anchoring the movie even during its lackluster stretches. And there are plenty of those stretches: “Kin” suffers from the artificial extension of a short into a feature. The movie’s structure is a repetition of “Jack and Elijah get into trouble, Elijah uses giant alien gun to get them out of trouble” for over an hour. At least Myles Truitt and Jack Reynor contribute moving performances that keep the movie from getting dull.
The other characters are nothing but forgettable stereotypes. There’s a stripper with a heart of gold, a psychopathic criminal who likes a famous song, a hardheaded father who just misses his dead wife—the screenplay is tediously one-dimensional, but not insultingly so. Until the last five minutes, that is.
Remember how short film directors will sometimes forego an actual ending so that studios might feel compelled to hand them a feature? Well, now that we live in a hellhole where apparently every idea deserves a franchise, entire movies can be cynical marketing tools too. Without getting into details: “Kin” ends with a shameless cliffhanger that comes out of practically nowhere and only exists to beg for a franchise. The sheer audacity of this stunt is alarming. The team behind “Kin” would rather release an incomplete movie than earn their way into a franchise—it’s pathetic, and if it works, then art is dead.