Australian twins Jonathan and Josh Baker bring a tale of brotherhood – and an alien weapon – to the screen in their genre-bending debut feature, Kin.
Having made a career out of directing commercials in the US for the last 15 years, Jonathan and Josh Baker always knew at some point they wanted to make the jump into making movies.
Having also written and directed the short film Bag Man in 2014, in which a New York teen discovers an otherworldly weapon, the Bakers saw this side project as a step closer, although Jonathan tells STACK that the short wasn’t simply a means to get a movie version made.
Producer Shawn Levy with the Baker brothers
“It was a self-contained story that we wanted to shoot in New York. We love the city and a lot of those cultural elements; we love surprise sci-fi that pops its head out of nowhere and plays with your expectations of what a movie is.”
In expanding Bag Man into the feature-length Kin, the Bakers already had an idea of where the story could go.
“We talked a lot about expanding it from a single child in New York to more of a brother dynamic,” says Jonathan. “What if he was finding his place in the world and was an adopted kid in a completely different style of family in Detroit? What would that look like? What if his brother was getting released from prison and he’s getting to know him for the first time? Once we figured out it was about brothers, who could challenge each other, we felt like we really had a movie.”
Jack Reynor and Myles Truitt as brothers with arms in Kin
Rather than write the screenplay themselves, the Bakers collaborated with screenwriter Daniel Casey on the script.
“We’ve always seen ourselves as more story guys that actual screenwriters typing on a laptop,” explains Josh. “But also we were busy with other things and like working with a third party that’s hopefully more talented than we are.”
Family ties bond the players and narrative of Kin, which also incorporates elements from other genres besides sci-fi, including the crime-thriller, western, road movie and coming-of-age drama. Jonathan describes the initial pitch as “a family drama hidden inside a genre film,” adding that he and Josh wanted a combination of all the genres they gravitated towards in cinema.
“At its heart it’s a sci-fi movie – there’s definitely a lot of that in there.
People like to put things in boxes these days, and that’s always been something we like to fight against. We like things that are multi-dimensional and layered with a bunch of different tones.”
Josh says that the aim was for a very grounded science fiction story. “We really tried our hardest to base everything in a level of reality as much as possible. There are some really fantastical elements happening, and obviously this giant ray gun from wherever is a main element of the film, so if that were to happen, let’s try and treat all of that stuff as realistically as possible.”
Although anchored in a gritty adult milieu, it was important that Kin be accessible to a young audience, who would relate to the protagonist, Eli (played by newcomer Myles Truitt).
“That was a very specific tone to hit,” says Jonathan. “We talked a lot about this as an adult film starring a kid, not a kids’ film. There were compromises within the journey of making the film, one of which was that in order to get the budget we got, it needed to be [US] PG-13.
“Although we made it for ourselves, we like a certain dark and gritty reality but we also love nostalgic ‘80s films and wish fulfillment. We do love the fact that it stars a 14-year-old African-American kid; thinking of that audience member watching this movie is exciting to us.”
Kin is in cinemas on August 30