I had the honor of chatting with indie icon and cult horror favorite Lucky McKee before the world premiere of his surprising new film “Kindred Spirits”.
Before treating myself to a spectacular viewing of Lucky McKee’s newest flick, Kindred Spirits, which held its world premiere at The Music Box theatre during Cinepocalypse, I got a chance to sit down with McKee and discuss this film, the evolution of his career, slow-burn horror, and so much more.
Kindred Spirits is, most certainly, a much different kind of Lucky McKee film. Most horror fans know him from his earlier films, like May (2002) and The Woman (2011), both of which are considered genre staples by most horror buffs.
Kindred Spirits is so starkly different in tone and pace from other films in his repertoire.
Yet, it still shows the same restraint and commitment to character develop we know and have come to expect from McKee. As a result, I found myself curious as to how he became so attached to such a project. The synopsis of the film was so simplistic that it left me very little to go on, and the film itself played out far differently than I would have expected.
McKee explained that he ended up working with Mike Moran – his producer on Kindred Spirits – over the last few years, and the two developed both a friendship and working relationship that led to him leaning on Moran’s assistance to sniff out new projects.
McKee’s last film, Blood Money, came out in 2017. And before that, his segment “Ding Dong” in the Halloween-themed anthology, Tales of Halloween, came out in 2015.
Many directors seem to constantly be working on projects, sometimes a few at once, especially when they’re in the independent filmmaking space. McKee explained his restlessness — and how necessity became the mother of invention that led him to this project by way of a familiar source. McKee explained:
“It wasn’t going fast enough. I really wanted to make a movie at the end of the last year. And I was jonesing to be back on set. So I was like, ‘I know you guys are making more movies this year. Do you have any scripts lying around that I might be a good fit for?’ And he (Moran) was like, ‘Yeah, I have one by your oldest friends, Chris Sivertson.'”
Sivertson and McKee had worked on All Cheerleaders Die and The Lost together.
McKee stated that they’ve been working together since they were teenagers. Sivertson also directed I Know Who Killed Me and The Brawler.
“So he gave me this script that Chris (Sivertson) had written, and I think I’d probably read it three or four years before and thought it was really cool. He just had that script, and it was ready to go. It was green lit. He just plugged me into it, and I got to just go do it. It was the fastest a movie has ever come together for me in my whole career.”
When asked about just how fast things came together, McKee said, “I think I called Mike (Moran) on a Tuesday and a couple days later I was making the movie.”
The already lightning-fast timeline continued to move along quickly, and a couple months later, they were in Austin, Texas, filming.
For comparison, McKee gave me some background on his first film, May. With May, McKee wrote the script when he was 19 years old. It took 5-6 years to get underway. Now, 17 years later, his experience with production surely gives him an advantage over newer filmmakers. But it’s still a fast turnaround by traditional standards. At the time we spoke, McKee stated that he’d finished everything on the film just two weeks prior.
“It’s the first time I’ve directed anything where I didn’t have to, like, put my hands on the script in any super crazy way. Usually I’ll make something, and I’ll kind of just re-write the thing basically.”
Some of his biggest successes can be attributed to the crew and the people he’s worked with on this and many of his other projects.
“Money and time, those are the big challenges. That’s about it. But when you have good people around you, you just make it happen no matter what.”
He goes on to explain:
“I worked with a fantastic crew. This was the first movie I ever shot in Austin, Texas. The crew, just the people – I’m all about the people. Having that really good vibe on set, the crew was just magnificent. We had a really short schedule, we never worked a day of overtime, we came in early a lot of days, and shot a lot of movie really, really fast. Some days are harder than others, but it was one of the smoothest shoots I’ve ever had, actually.”
Sivertson and McKee have cultivated a fantastic partnership throughout the years, and part of that magic shines in their other collaborative works like All Cheerleaders Die.
Kindred Spirits has that same magic. Like many other dynamic duos in horror and film, such as Leigh Whannell and James Wan, Chris Sivertson and Lucky McKee are proving themselves to be a cinematic force to be reckoned with.
“I know Chris, I know his sense of humor. I had a deeper understanding of the script than a random director would have had. He’s my one of my oldest friends, he’s like a brother,” said McKee.
Kindred Spirits has less of the blood, guts, and deeply disturbing moments some of us have adored in McKee’s prior work.
But is in his beautifully developed characters — who all exist in this fragmented, fractured family dynamic — that makes it really resonate like a Lucky McKee film.
“It’s kind of what I’ve always done,” McKee said on his love of writing and directing character-driven pieces that don’t rely as much on setting or lean on plot. He continues:
“That’s what interests me. I think that our observations of ourselves and observations of those around us says a lot. What we choose to express is a lot about us. It’s all about getting something out whether you know what it is when you’re doing it or you discover it years down the line. People fascinate me.”
It adds a different dynamic to this piece and his work in general. But horror fans still get scares that are linked in with the three women who carry the story. They add sinister elements to what initially seems to be a tale of a little lost lamb coming home for a fresh start with her family.
Innocent enough, right?
Without revealing too much, Kindred Spirits takes elements from classic thrillers like Single White Female.
It’s inspired by film noir, Hitchcock, and a lot of films in cinema and in the film noir sub genre that just don’t exist anymore.
“The producer, Mike (Moran) and me and my buddy Chris (Sivertson), who wrote the script, were big fans of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s psycho-thrillers that the studios used to make. They don’t really make a lot of them anymore. SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, I mean, you look at SINGLE WHITE FEMALE – it’s shot by the guy that shot SUSPIRIA (Luciano Tovoli) It’s just beautiful. It’s like looking at paintings.”
Even with a long exposition that leaves the audience aching for that real Lucky McKee moment, that slap to the face that we all know is coming, it still delivers.
The payoff is worth the wait.
And for lovers of films that simmer on the viewer’s psyche instead of delivering a jaw-breaking first punch, Kindred Spirits will leave its impression behind after the credits roll.
“Certain movies just mark you, you know?” said McKee.
This is something that horror fans commonly discuss amongst themselves – what movies ‘scarred you for life’?
Kindred Spirits may not be one to leave its audience in an irreparable state like many experienced with The Woman. But there is a humanity to it that makes the viewer feel safe, comfortable, and curious about treading further into the world McKee creates — before they inevitably get burned by letting their guard down.
“There’s an intentional vagueness to the antagonist (Sadie). There’s an intentional vagueness as to what’s actually going on there. If you really take a step back and try to break down what she’s doing and what’s going on – it’s absurd. Which is really funny to me, I find that amusing,” said McKee.
This is more relatability in character-driven pieces because there are aspects of each character that people can identify with. Each of the three main characters of the film (Thora Birch, Caitlin Stasey, and Sasha Frolova) can easily be reminiscent of someone you’ve loved, someone you’ve hated, or someone you’ve been. McKee says it best:
“I think we’ve all had or known or maybe even been a person that creates drama where there does not need to be drama created just because something is broken inside of them, or something that’s hurting inside them that they start lashing out in these kind of weird, random, impulsive ways.”
Kindred Spirits also showcases the growth and trajectory of Lucky McKee’s evolution as a filmmaker.
Will horror fans like this film? Lucky McKee’s work is not exclusive to the horror space. But it’s his talent as a filmmaker that allows him to tap into some of what we’ve seen in his previous works that echo – sometimes very loudly – in Kindred Spirits. It may not read like a traditional horror film, but there are certainly horrifying elements to this film. And fans of his projects in the horror space will likely find something to satisfy them in Kindred Spirits.
“Gosh, I don’t know. I don’t even know if it’s a horror movie. I mean, I think maybe if there is appeal in that sector of movie fans, it’s just gonna be because of my past work. There are a couple of pretty good horror moments. There’s one in particular that’s pretty fun,” said McKee.
Even so, since many of McKee’s devoted fans and critics are within the horror space. He has a challenge to deliver, and he’s raised the bar rather high for himself.
“Hopefully people just want to see a story with interesting characters. I hope the people have the patience for it, because it’s not really in your face,” McKee said.
Seeing it at the world premiere — with a live audience and McKee himself present for the screening — gave me a different sort of insight to it that I hadn’t seen before when I watched in preparation for our interview.
Really, it might be in that collaborative viewing experience that Kindred Spirits is its most effective.
McKee also experienced this when he showed it to his own friends.
“I had a couple people tell me the film surprised them. They’re watching, and they are like, ‘I know Lucky made this film, but what’s going on here? This feels just like a drama.’ Like LADYBIRD or something. It’s fun. I’ve watched it with a couple friends, and I’ve watched them have the same reaction. It kind of goes on and starts twisting up on them. Then they’re like, ‘Wait a second… what?’”
Not only has McKee evolved as a filmmaker, but he’s undergone some big changes in his personal life that have influenced him as well.
The film, ironically enough, premiered on Father’s Day, and McKee’s new role as a father has affected the scope of his filmmaking as well. It has added what some might consider to be an unexpected effect on his persona on set and the work he’s been doing overall. McKee explains:
“This is my first movie that I’ve made as a father. It’s changed a lot and kept me stable in a really cool way. It’s good to have that stabilizing factor of my wife and son there. I’ve never had that before, and it’s really helped a lot.”
Everyone will surely have a different takeaway.
For me, it was about how past trauma can affect people in different stages in their life. Trauma can very well be an insidious monster that has a mind all its own. McKee wants audiences to take “whatever they want” from it.
As he says:
“The things I’ve made over the years, that’s always one of the fun parts — when you’re done, and people are interpreting the thing. Everybody interprets art in a way that’s specific to them. That’s really interesting to me.”
Like many films in the film noir and thriller sub genre, atmosphere is everything. The Music Box was the perfect place for a world premiere of this style of film.
“I love the theater (The Music Box). I can’t wait to hear it. Those old theaters, the acoustics are built in a way where it kind of reverberates because they didn’t have great speakers a long time ago. The way that there’s a certain type of reverb in an old movie palace that really hits this nostalgic sweet spot for me,” said McKee.
The technical aspects of the film were breathtaking.
The sound, the lighting, the cinematography all really added to such a character-driven piece without detracting from the overall story of the film of the story McKee is trying to tell. He elaborates:
“We did a lot of stuff. We reflected a lot of light into broken panes of glass to throw these crazy patterns on the wall to make things a little schizo looking. I’m also a huge fan of the Hitchcock film, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, which I think this film owes a debt to in terms of a family member coming from out of town and creating that poison in the atmosphere within a family setting.”
Kindred Spirits does not have a release date yet, but McKee suspects it’ll come out soon.
He didn’t state which festivals it’ll be playing at, but there are some upcoming, pending official announcements both in the US and abroad in the not so distant future.
Fans who loved Kindred Spirits and who love Lucky McKee are always eager for more from their favorite directors. What’s the next step in his directorial metamorphosis? McKee tells me all about what he’s working on currently.
“I’m finishing a little short film I made for an anthology that’s being made by these producers in Germany. It’s called DEATHCEMBER. The idea of it is that it’s like an advent calendar where all the segments are like a different day on the advent, like a horror advent calendar.”
“I also made this little short that I’m really excited about called ‘They Once Had Horses’. It’s a little Western thing, like a black and white Western thing with these two guys that have been attacked by something and they’re waiting for it to kill them. This one is a totally different change of pace, and it was really cool to jump into that on the heels of KINDRED SPIRITS.”
It’s a bit of a gear shift, but fans of Lucky McKee can always expect the unexpected by putting their trust in this visionary director’s more than capable hands.
Both with Kindred Spirits making the festival circuit and Deathcember upcoming, he is one who seldom disappoints. I, for one, cannot wait to see what he’ll bring us next.