Release dates shouldn’t necessarily be a metric for evaluating films, and yet sometimes it’s the best way to contextualize what’s going on with a movie.
“Kin,” a dark and confounding young-adult thriller, written and directed by Jonathan and Josh Baker, co-written by Daniel Casey, is best described as a prototypical “August movie.” Not fitting into one genre or another, too dark to appeal to kids and too juvenile to draw adults, it’s seemingly been dumped in that no-man’s land between blockbuster and awards season.
“Kin” is based on a short film by the brothers Baker called “Bag Man.” It follows a 14-year-old boy from Detroit, Eli (Myles Truitt, in his first feature-film role), as he goes on the lam with his adopted ex-con brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor). Eli’s brought along a mysterious gun, a large, box-shaped weapon he picked up in an abandoned building while scrapping to make extra money.
In pursuit is Taylor (James Franco), a psychopathic drug dealer out for vengeance after a robbery leaves both his brother Dutch (Gavin Fox) and Eli and Jimmy’s father Hal (Dennis Quaid) dead. Franco’s Taylor is essentially his character Alien from “Spring Breakers” with several hard years on him, cornrows chopped into a ratty mullet, sporting a moth-eaten sweater and many misguided tattoos, signifying his impulsive and reckless nature.
Eli and Jimmy, en route to Lake Tahoe, are also being followed by a mysterious pair of futuristic soldiers on a mission to repossess the weapon. Eli discovers how useful the “ray gun” can be when they find themselves in a brawl at a Midwestern strip club. The gun shoots blasts that can vaporize anything. After escaping evil club owner Lee (Romano Orzari), dancer Milly (Zoë Kravitz) joins the brothers on the run.
“Kin” is a movie about the bond between brothers, whether biological or forged in a blended family. Although the circumstances of Jimmy and Eli’s road trip aren’t ideal, Jimmy’s happy for the time he gets to spend with his little brother, on the cusp of manhood, after so many years in jail.
But the reunion is contrasted with Taylor’s rage and grief at the loss of his own brother. That explodes into a tsunami of blood and death as he and his posse storm the Nevada police station where Eli and Jimmy have been detained, while liberally, graphically killing many police officers.
The violence in the film’s third act is shocking, and it strains both the suspension of disbelief and the honestly shameful PG-13 rating. “Kin” is not a blockbuster or a heroic young-adult tale (though the film may reach for this, it is at the last moment). 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.
Rated: PG-13, for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, language, thematic elements and drinking
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.
Playing: In general release