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  • Writer's pictureAlex Leptos

REVIEW: 'Kin Dread', a thriller feature by Adrian León

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

An anti-social sound designer with retrograde amnesia discovers a string of murders in his building but when the carnage triggers memories of his mysterious past, he races to stop the killer before losing those he loves most.

“The concept for Kin Dread arose from a desire to create a film which would exist on more than one thematic level; to use sound as a plot device, as character development and to suggest a world larger than the one on screen; and finally, out of a love for 1970’s paranoid thrillers like The Conversation, Blow Out and the surreal, dream-like nature of films like Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. The film’s primary character, Winters, is unable to leave his apartment but the room is not just his home. Thematically the space gives viewers a glimpse of his mind, a dusty, shadowy chamber cluttered with noise-making devices and disembodied voices. Sound in the film expands the scope of the story by suggesting the larger community within which Winters lives but it is also central to the plot of the film. Winters is a sound designer by trade and the film’s unseen antagonist uses sounds to manipulate him. Additionally, key events in Winters’s early life illustrate why he chose his profession and what long-term effect sound has had on his mind. We produced Kin Dread on a tiny budget and over a short schedule- 11 days- but the film is as ambitious and, depending on the viewer, as deep as the classic films which inspire it. The result, I hope, is a film which, as one online viewer phrased it, “punches above its weight,” takes viewers on a journey, and gives them something new to notice with each additional viewing.”

- Adrian León (director)

Outside the Spotlight says: Alfred Hitchcock once said that the audience’s imagination will always be far more terrifying that anything that can be filmed and director Adrian Leon certainly makes use of this philosophy with Kin Dread. Kin Dread relies heavily on atmosphere and implied horrors as opposed to actual, seen horrors. That's not to suggest that it doesn't feature your conventional horror scares but there are only few and they unconventionally feature brighter splashes of colour than the bleak, blue-green hues that accompany you through most of the film.

Kin Dread follows a boy named Winters (Ethan David Smart) who works as a sound engineer and only exists within the confides of his apartment. His parents are estranged and he was raised by a couple, Alan and Marie (Partick Cupo and Corinna Jones) who found him in a rather bad state. Winters also has amnesia and his only friend or some form of one seems to be the caretaker of his apartment building, Leonard (Kevin Owyang) However, that friendship is perhaps based on favours and bribery more than anything else. All of the characters in Kin Dread have at least some depth and are all flawed but likeable in their own ways and all backed by strong performances.

Through sound is where the meat of the movie lies and going back to Hitchcock's philosophy, is largely where it stays. Winters has bugged his neighbour's apartments and listens in on their day to day lives and even keeps a telescope for one specific neighbour (Elinor Gunn), uncovering a string of murders by doing so. Additionally, we also learn about Winter’s past and up-brining through a parallel story of his childhood (Winter’s younger self portrayed by Isaiah Dell) as opposed to conveniently timed flashbacks, which is refreshing. It is a rather slow burn type of film but does have a lot going on, presenting a number of ideas early, preparing the viewer for an intimate psychological experience. Often, when it comes to mystery, it seems that filmmakers don't trust their audience's intelligence but Leon doesn't hand you things on a plate. Kin Dread wants you to figure things out for yourself as you embark on a seemingly endless quest for answers like some kind of sinister Rubick’s cube.

The scary movie market is generally overly-saturated in both the mainstream film world and the independent world. So many think that they can make a good horror movie with some make up and a few loud noises. Kin Dread clearly takes inspiration from a number of features and filmic styles and wears its influences on its sleeve. The concept of a sound engineer or foley artist however is a concept barely explored at all and that works in Kin Dread's favour. It's a wonder that the concept of sound is not one that filmmakers choose to explore or take advantage of past the aforementioned loud noises because films like this and others such as Berberian Sound Studio prove that you don't need that much to make a horror or thriller effective.

Kin Dread features limited, small locations which is a smart choice for a film with a small budget. The feeling of claustrophobia that it creates akin to Hollywood ventures such as Saw and what one could only assume was a major influence, Rear Window, consistently proves effective regardless of a film’s budget. Kin Dread lives through its sense of impending doom aided by a memorably ominous soundtrack whilst maintaining a strong whodunnit atmosphere. At times, even channeling the feel of more psychedelic filmic experiences such as Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

That lack of budget however does begin to show in the closing minutes through its visual effects which is where it perhaps gets a little too ambitious for its own good. The climax features a genuinely unexpected twist however I’m not sure that Kin Dread builds itself clearly enough to make that ultimate payoff feel as impactful as it could’ve been. It will however, probably make you want to go back and re-watch and Kin Dread does keep itself interesting; at no point feeling like it was dragging, making it an overall very enjoyable experience.

- About the director -

Adrian León is an independent feature-film director and award-winning producer / director of broadcast documentaries and current affairs television programs. Most recently, his neo-noir psychological thriller "KIN DREAD" was picked up for worldwide distribution and released on August 8th, 2021. His television film "Trafficked No More" was nominated for an Emmy® by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 2015 for "Outstanding Achievement in the Current Affairs Program or Special" category, won a 2014 Silver TELLY Award for Informational TV Program and was also recognized by the United States Congress. "One," his hour-long television documentary about horse therapy for endangered urban youth, was nominated for a 2016 Emmy® for "Outstanding Achievement in the Broadcast Documentary" category. His latest reality-based program "Believe Again: Las Vegas," about the October 1st, 2017 Route 91 / Mandalay Bay mass shooting in Las Vegas was nominated for a 2018 Emmy® in the "Outstanding Achievement in the Current Affairs Program or Special" category. He is currently in development on two more independent feature films.

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[Custom poster designed and artworked by Outside the Spotlight]

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1 Comment

Darren Bailey
Darren Bailey
Dec 31, 2021

A couple spelling corrections: it should say “confines” not “confides”. Also, it’s spelled Rubik’s Cube, not Rubick’s.

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