Knowing full well that I was going into the new Lucky McKee film, Kindred Spirits (holding its LA Premiere at this year’s 19th Annual Screamfest in Los Angeles), I had in mind the grit, the gore and the sometimes unforgiving aesthetic of some of his previous efforts. May, The Woman and his awesome Masters of Horror episode; Sick Girl, certainly come to mind.
Imagine my surprise when Kindred Spirits was more of a character-driven psychological thriller, perhaps in the vein of ‘90s “psycho bitch” (my coined term for films of that era and of this ilk) efforts, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Single White Female.
But instead of suburbia or the big city as a setting, it’s a small town where all of the manipulation and horror of Kindred Spirits takes place.
After a year away to places unknown, prodigal sister Sadie (Caitlin Stasey) returns to her family home, where her older sister Chloe (American Beauty’s Thora Birch) has remained, and raised her almost-adult daughter Nicole (Sasha Frolova of last year’s Red Sparrow). Aunt Sadie and Nicole have a long history of deep bonding (including a long-ago incident where Sadie saved Nicole’s life), and upon Sadie’s return, that bond is quickly reignited. In addition, growing up, Chloe was something of a mother figure for Sadie. But as Sadie settles in for a potentially (and initially joyful) long stay, strange things begin to occur and Sadie’s behavior takes an odd and eventually dangerous turn.
I wouldn’t consider that description as containing spoilers, as you’ll learn rather quickly that something is certainly off about Aunt Sadie. McKee takes the Hitchcock approach of letting the audience in on things, quite early on – and letting the characters wander about, clueless. Certainly a way to build suspense, if not unravel a mystery.
You see exactly what’s going on, and then become witness to the manipulation and eventual fallout.
While the film has a few moments of extreme (and creative violence/gore), Kindred Spirits is indeed a character piece. And at the center of this character focus, is Sadie.
Overall, I was pleased with all of the acting work on display here, but the three female leads do just that. They lead.
As Sadie, Stasey skyrockets her character’s sense of self, sense of entitlement and chaotic manipulations, smack-dab into Jennifer Jason Leigh territory, a la the aforementioned Single White Female. I marveled at the blank stares in between the character’s radical mood shifts. And it was wonderful to see the character’s downhill sprint toward the film’s finish line.
There is a lovely homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho at one point in the film, and this offers Stasey her best acting moment in the piece. Using a blanket she’s covered with in the scene, there is a striking and somewhat sad return for Sadie, to a simpler time.
Thora Birch as unsuspecting sister Chloe – has the frustrated young mother down pat. I bought all of her interactions with her on-screen daughter. All well and good. But it was her reactions to Sadie’s strange behavior (notably when Chloe reveals to Sadie some details about her current love affair). Her disbelief at Sadie’s prudishness is a classic response. While these strange shifts in Sadie only confuse Chloe (with more and more wonderful reactions from Birch), the audience is all too aware of what’s going on.
As Nicole, Frolova, properly brings the teen angst. She runs the gamut of emotions, as Nicole deals with an absent father, a strained relationship with her mother, a new romance with a local boy named Derek (Isai Torres) and her renewed bond with her recently-returned Aunt Sadie. When things start to shift in the household, and Nicole has some heartbreaking realizations, Frolova’s wonderfully expressive eyes tell the complete tale.
One thing which truly did grate on me, was the score. At times it was fine, but for the first half (at least), while situations and characters were being established, I found it overbearing and somehow tonally incongruous with the film itself. It was sort of dreamy and melodramatic. I see how it ties in with the story, but it never quite felt right.
While I have some inkling of where Sadie may have been in the year prior to the events of the film, it’s never revealed. It’s one of those, “I don’t know what I want” moments in a film like this. I’d love to have some further details, but would the filmmaker’s ultimate choice of “revealed secrets” pay off the way I want? Can’t have it both ways, but I think leaving it unsaid was perhaps the better choice. Maybe. Maybe not. Pardon the wishy-washiness.
The film was written by Chris Siverson, who previously directed the Lindsay Lohan thriller, I Know Who Killed Me.
While I don’t believe the film will end up achieving any kind of cult status (unlike some of McKee’s previous efforts), or reign supreme come the end of Screamfest (check out my complete wrap-up of the festival), it’s an enjoyable film with generally strong performances.
And Kindred Spirits offers that aforementioned glimpse into the softer side of Lucky McKee. But new ground? It did not break. A nicely-produced and decent addition to the “psycho bitch” genre, but ultimately not terribly memorable. And 25 years past the prime of so many of these femme fatale-style films, it feels like Kindred Spirits is behind the times.
Then again, if there’s a resurgence in this particular sub-genre, perhaps Kindred Spirits will be at the forefront of this renaissance. Time will tell.
Bottom line: the softer side of Lucky McKee. It was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to live there.
Kindred Spirits is scheduled for release on October 24th, 2019.