The Directors of ‘Kin’ Talk Science-Fiction and Gun Violence

Fantasy or not, there’s no shortage of loaded imagery in ‘Kin’
By  · Published on August 31st, 2018

What would happen if a teenager stumbled across a weapon more powerful than any gun? In Kin, the first feature by commercial filmmakers Jonathan and Josh Baker, we meet Eli (Myles Truitt), a Detroit high school who stumbles across a futuristic piece of technology while stripping copper wire from abandoned commercial properties. From there, the film follows Eli and his estranged brother on a cross-country road trip as the two try to stay one step ahead of futuristic soldiers and violent arms dealers. To discuss the film’s futuristic imagery — and the challenges of releasing a movie about teenagers and guns in 2018— we sat down with the Baker brothers and screenwriter Daniel Casey.

For science-fiction filmmakers, a short as successful as Bag Man should be their ticket to a Hollywood hyphen. Plenty of notable genre writer-directors — from George Lucas to Neill Blomkamp to Michael Dougherty — began their careers with a feature film based on their popular short. Therefore, the choice to bring on a new writer — like the Baker brothers did with Casey — represents something of an anomaly. Then again, for Jonathan Baker, this was always part of the plan. “From day one, we really wanted to work with someone better than we were,” Baker says bluntly. “We like the way that three-way relationship works between two directors and an editor, a cinematographer, a writer. We generally have a lot of fun with that. We love the way that you can brainstorm and collaborate when it’s three and it’s not just ego, head-to-head, one person versus another person.”

Casey’s addition to the creative team also gave the brothers a much-desired element of authenticity for the scenes shot in Detroit. Even dating back to their commercial work, the Bakers have always had a flair for the depiction of urban decay; their commercials for brands like Nike and Powerade focus heavily on basketball courts and soccer fields hidden away amidst rundown commercial properties. To them, Casey’s memories of growing up in the Motor City helped get everything just right onscreen. “We really enjoy telling stories about pretty, gritty things,” Jonathan Baker admits. “We try to throw the slickery away and we’re generally shooting handheld cameras and things that feel a little bit more grounded and real.”

Like many science-fiction movies released over the past few years, Kin does contain more than a few nods to ’80s blockbusters, but the Bakers are less interested in making overt throwbacks to James Cameron and more interested in mixing together a bunch of movie visuals they loved growing up, regardless of their source. “It’s our taste in cinema,” Josh Baker explains, “Whether it be independent film mixed with giant sci-fi fare —  mixed with road trip  —  and making all of that stuff work together.” Once unexpected source of inspiration was Disney’s 1963 animated The Sword in the Stone film, which the Bakers note is another film about an adolescent boy who stumbles upon a powerful weapon. As proof, the brothers point to a scene in Kin where Eli simply stares at an owl that has landed on a shop marquee across the street from his hotel. “We love owls,” Jonathan Baker says simply.

But much as the Baker brothers may hope Kin will be judged solely as a fantasy film, it’s also impossible to watch the movie and not feel some discomfort at the sight of a teenager playing with a high-tech rifle. Kin, a movie that often utilizes the aesthetics of video game violence, still ends with a hyper-realistic police station shootout that requires Eli to shoot (and kill) to stay alive. The film is also hitting theaters mere days after a video game convention was the source of gun violence, causing many in the media to revive a decades-old debate on the merits of gun violence in media*. When asked how gun violence headlines affected their perspective of the movie, both Bakers express hope that their film might serve as a warning.

*Editor’s Note: This interview took place on Wednesday, August 22, four days before Sunday’s shooting in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I think having something that feels complicated when you’re watching it is not a bad thing,” Jonathan Baker suggests, admitting that the movie will understandably be viewed through a different lens now than it might have been even three years ago when the script was being written. Josh Baker describes the movie as the result of many conversations — including ones between the filmmakers — about video games and the desensitization of youth towards media violence. “You’ve got a 12-year-old that could, if you handed them a military chain fed machine gun, actually know what they’re doing with it, literally because they’ve played Call of Duty so many times,” he explains, noting that the film could definitely be viewed as a “cautionary tale” for what happens when someone heads down the wrong path.

For Casey, the darkness present in the real world only served to highlight where Eli ends up at the end of the movie. “Even in 2015 when we were writing this script, we knew we were gonna wind up in a place at the end of the film where he’d put the gun down,” Casey explains. “And he gave the gun up because he comes into an awareness of the responsibility that comes with carrying this thing around.” For the screenwriter, Eli’s actions send a message to audiences that is universally important. “Ultimately, the good decision that he makes with regards to the responsibility he’s given, that’s timeless.”

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)