Aussie twins Josh and Jonathan Baker arrived at South By Southwest in 2014 with BAGMAN, a short about a boy and a bag with mysterious contents. The brothers left the festival boasting universal praise for the short and a bonafide product they could package and pitch for their ultimate goal – a big-screen adaptation.
This week, that big-screen dream comes true in the form of Kin, the story of Eli (Myles Truitt), a young black boy who finds a mysterious metal box, rather than a bag, while exploring abandoned buildings in his home town of Detroit. And it’s the story of his brother Jimmy (Jack Raynor), who’s home from prison and owes some money to some bad people, one of them played by James Franco.
What’s inside the box? If you’ve seen the trailer, you know it’s big, destructive, and not from this world.
We sat down to chat with the Baker brothers about their Amblin-style inspirations and what it’s like being the other directing twin brothers for mega-producer Shawn Levy.
Zoë Kravitz, Dennis Quaid, and James Franco – not exactly names you expect to cast in your first film. But the Baker Bros. say Kin wasn’t a hard sell – the short, BAGMAN, did the work for them. “When we met with Zoë, we were still pitching and chatting about the project,” Jonathan says. “And at one point she just interrupted us to say, ‘You know I’m totally doing this.'” The brothers say it was a huge relief as she was their first choice to play Milly. Franco was an even easier sell. Producer Shawn Levy was working with the actor on Why Him? and slipped him a script; he read the early draft and signed up right away.
The short also enticed producer Shawn Levy to join the project, who – having previously produced the Duffer Brothers for Stranger Things – had experience working with co-directing siblings. The Bakers brothers told Rotten Tomatoes he was an incredible collaborator, and thought of him “as an older brother – Shawn is not that much older than we are.” The bond between between the Bakers and Levy infected the entire production, they said.
There is a techno-infused neon quality to the art direction of Kin, which gives it a slick and edgy sci-fi feel – but its inspiration is much less modern. “It’s our genre-inspired take on The Sword and The Stone,” Josh told us: Eli’s ‘box’ is a transforming futurist weapon with untold capability, and he’s the Detroit-living young Arthur to discover it.
The film’s subject matter – a kid who finds an uncontrollable gun – has raised some eyebrows given the heated debates about gun control; the fact that the kid with the gun is a young black male has raised some eyebrows even higher. But the brothers say it was key to have a young, strong, black male in the lead role. “What was super important to us was to keep the cast diverse and pushing a young, African American lead in this film and having that be one of the biggest parts of the movie, along with family dynamic,” Jonathan said. They also praised Truitt, who turns in a star-making performance. “He did so much with just his eyes, it’s was so subtle you can’t help being intrigued by what he’s doing.”
Watching the film, it becomes clear that the Baker Brothers drew inspiration from Spielberg’s and Lucas’ kids’ adventure movies from the ’80s – think Goonies and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But some viewers are seeing different inspirations. “So many people said this was taken from this video game or this is ripped from Halo,” Josh says. “But if you make a comparison to The Last of Us…for both of us, we consider it high praise.”
Kin is in theaters August 31