Young actor anchors sci-fi thriller Kin
ATLANTA — Twin brothers can make great sci-fi entertainment as proven by the Duffers, who developed Netflix’s runaway hit “Stranger Things.”
So the producers of “Stranger Things” decided to gamble on another pair of twin brothers, Jonathan and Josh Baker, to create a film featuring a young teen who rides his bike a lot and gets himself into all sorts of supernatural trouble.
Titled “Kin” and starring Atlanta newcomer Myles Truitt as the contemplative teen Eli, the film also features Dennis Quaid as Eli’s tough-as-nails adopted dad Hal, Jack Reynor as Hal’s ne’er-do-well son Jimmy, James Franco as nasty crime lord Taylor and Zoe Kravitz as Milly, the stripper with a heart of gold. It comes out in wide release Aug. 31.
The Bakers, who grew up in Australia, have spent years shooting ads but, needing to scratch a different creative itch, released a short film called “Bag Man” in 2015. That film led to this full-length feature, which artfully blends sci-fi elements, a family drama and a road trip with a gritty, indie vibe.
When Eli is seen playing a “Terminator” upright video game at a restaurant, that homage is deliberate because this film possesses many elements that evoke the 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, right down to a shootout at a police station.
The Bakers, in a recent interview, said they knew the most crucial casting choice would be Eli, who finds a weapon that is clearly not of this Earth in an empty Detroit factory while ripping out copper to make a few bucks.
Myles has a relatively light resume for someone handed a lead role in a major film: He played the young Ronnie DeVoe in BET’s surprisingly popular “New Edition Story” last year and a boy badly wronged in a flashback episode of FX’s “Atlanta.”
The Bakers had already looked at 250 to 300 other actors but found Myles’ low-key approach refreshing and on-point for “Kin.”
“Most actors that age are trying to impress you and overact and the truth goes out the window,” Jonathan Baker said. “We were looking for a particular level of emotional maturity. This is a person who knows when to be quiet. Myles can be energetic off camera but he can pull it back and be small and subtle. This film is small and subtle. We needed a lead actor to back that up.”
The film indeed avoids the loud, blockbuster approach in favour of quiet moments punctuated by the occasional bang, typically from the crazy gun Eli totes around.
Myles said it wasn’t a major stretch for him to play Eli because he considers himself “a very independent soul. I like doing things myself.”
There were moments in the film where the producers had Myles do takes where he yells and gets angry but ultimately used the ones where he dials it back and gives a more contained performance.
Myles said he was anxious the first week being the lead guy but the cast and crew helped him loosen up. Quaid would joke around with Myles and even try to sing bits of trap music.
Amid all that, Myles said he focused on humility.
“I don’t like to flex and fawn,” he said. “I don’t see myself as better than anybody else. I just keep it pushing and be myself.”
While Eli is ultimately innocent and sympathetic, the filmmakers faced a challenge with Reynor’s character, Jimmy, who is just out of prison but faces immediate mortal danger with Franco’s malevolent crime leader.
“He personifies the bad path for this kid,” Josh Baker said. “He is clearly a bad influence but we had to ensure the audience doesn’t hate him the entire time. You get to the end and hope he’s redeemable.”
Quaid, the producers said, was drawn to the film because it enabled him to play a few shades darker than his normal film personas. His character is beaten down by life and he imparts that wisdom to his adopted son.
And Detroit is a character in the film as well, a symbol of America’s glorious past, now beaten down. “We talked a lot about the theme of decay,” Jonathan Baker said. “Decay of the environment, decay of the family structure. The three male figures are all passing ships in the night with no anchor.”
They do take the film on the road partway through and introduce Kravitz’s empathetic stripper character. “They are all broken characters who find each other,” Jonathan Baker said. “It makes for an unconventional family unit.”
The end of the film does scream for a sequel or two. If “Kin” does well, Lionsgate will surely give them a shot to do it all again.
“We have a story that goes well beyond this movie if people are interested, if there’s a hunger for it,” Josh Baker said.
But they will have no choice but jump the time frame forward a bit.
The film was shot in Toronto nearly two years ago when Myles was 14. He has sprouted nearly six inches since then and is almost six feet tall.
Dennis Quaid, left, and Myles Truitt in "Kin." Quaid plays a tough dad to his adopted son.
James Franco plays a nasty crime leader in "Kin."