“Kindred Spirits” is not what you’re expecting from Lucky McKee. But if you’re patient, you may really enjoy this slow but beautifully crafted ride.
Lucky McKee has done it again. At the world premiere of his newest thriller Kindred Spirits at Cinepocalypse last weekend, fans were treated to a visceral, slow-burn psychological thriller that is quite unlike the director’s previous body of work.
In the age of mind-bending thrillers such as Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria, horror film buffs are learning to enjoy the anticipation of the scare just as much as the scare itself.
In many ways, Kindred Spirits is more in league with the film noir genre. It gently clasps the hand of predecessor films that are variants on similar themes, such as Single White Female and Gone Girl. McKee fans who are looking for the brutality of The Woman or the dark romance of May might feel somewhat out of place watching this film. It doles out a big ask of audiences to endure its long exposition before getting to what I felt was a rather rewarding payoff toward the film’s third act.
There is a lot to unpack in Kindred Spirits.
But die-hard fans of McKee’s earlier work may end up being on polarizing sides of whether they loved or hated this film when the credits roll.
Kindred Spirits is a tale of three women: Chloe (Thora Birch), Sadie (Caitlin Stasey), and Nicole (Sasha Frolova). It’s about the dynamics that hold together a tumultuous family dynamic and familial secrets with poorly applied tape and glue. Birch’s Chloe is instantly likable as a worn-down, single mother who is trying to navigate her teenage daughter Nicole’s adolescence as best as she can, while trying to keep a relationship with her kindly friend and neighbor, Alex (Macon Blair) a secret.
Sasha Frolova is stunning as whirlwind teen rebel Nicole, whose longing for her beloved aunt Sadie (Stasey) to be an integral part of her life again has disastrous results. Stasey’s performance is worth the price of admission alone, as her poisonous antagonist brings the audience through a full gamut of emotions during the film’s 92-minute run time.
Inspired in part by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, the tense, atmospheric film is certainly enough to keep the audience guessing about what might happen next.
Even if the plot itself is a tad simplistic, the simple nature of the premise allows for audiences to start reading in between the lines of the action — making their own inferences about what, exactly, is happening on the screen.
Chris Sivertson’s character-driven script allows all three women who carry the film to shine in their own ways. Chloe becomes caught between the other two women – her daughter and sister, respectively – and portrays the relatable struggle of a woman who is trying to get her life toward a docile simpatico. She tries to balance her sister’s unannounced return, her daughter’s constant rebellion, and a ‘friends-with-benefits’ relationship with the father of her daughter’s best friend Shay (Shonagh Smith).
Nicole is somewhat of a stereotypical teen who is embarking on the discovery of her own identity, navigating a new relationship with her boyfriend Derek (Isai Torres), and pushing back against her mother’s attempts to keep her from making the same mistakes she did – a concern which Nicole takes personally, wearing the “I was a mistake” badge like an overly dramatic chip on her shoulder.
Sadie is the most interesting character in the piece not just because she’s the antagonist, but because she is starkly familiar.
She is the devil we know, the pot-stirrer who likes to cause trouble for sport. But in other interpretations, this could be fueled by an untreated mental illness. The notion of ‘why’ is left purposefully vague, likely a shout-out from McKee to his audience about making their own inferences regarding why Sadie seems so hell-bent on the destruction of people she claims to love.
Cinematically, McKee and cinematographer Chris Heinrich use lighting and mood to portray a fragmented consciousness of not only Sadie, but of the house where all three women reside. He is careful not to give anything away too quickly. Yet these effects pour into foreshadowing, which starts to creep in like a storm on the horizon as soon as Sadie worms her way back into her family’s life.
The title of the film is a reference to the relationship between Sadie and Nicole, which is where I think the film’s premise truly shines.
The two girls are only a few years apart in age (seven years) and have close birthdays that have been celebrated together routinely in the past. What’s more, Sadie saved Nicole’s life when she was a child. The movie begins with a flashback of how Sadie pulled Nicole out of the way of an oncoming car just in the nick of time.
“I owe you my life, Aunt Sadie,” Nicole professes more than a few times during the film. The two are, as the title suggests, ‘kindred spirits.’
Nicole’s identity seems to be directly interwoven into who her Aunt Sadie was when they were growing up together. Both of them were raised by Chloe, who was not only a young mother but also was in charge of caring for her younger sister. Sadie is also tethered to Nicole, and it’s easy to infer that she is jealous of Nicole’s childhood and adolescent years, perhaps because she feels like she was cheated out of her own.
The dichotomy of their shared identity – many supporting characters even suggest that they look alike – brings about a toxic environment where it becomes painstakingly clear that neither Nicole nor Sadie truly understand themselves. And the bond between them isn’t so much saccharine and kismet as it is destructive.
Though the majority of the film relies on soft lighting and the idyllic setting of modern suburbia, the score by Joel Kraemer implies that none of the characters – nor the audience – are truly safe.
A wild third act brings the entire film to a revved up, 90 miles-per-hour sprint where we are rewarded for our patience and delivered from our wild speculations.
And that’s where this finally starts to feel like a Lucky McKee movie.
The ending shouldn’t and won’t be spoiled here, but I advise anyone who goes to see this movie to really take in the first two acts. And when it starts to seem like it won’t pay off, hold on just a little longer and stay the course.
Kindred Spirits will be playing at film festivals that are yet to be announced. Distribution is also unknown. But I recommend fans of McKee’s stay tuned in to when this film might arrive at a theater or festival near you. And see it with a live audience if you can. It makes the atmosphere that much tighter and darkly insidious.
4 out of 5 stars