There are few genre filmmakers as fond of a gear-shift as Lucky McKee. From May to The Woods, from The Woman to All Cheerleaders Die, you’ll often find dark comedy, horror and emotional turmoil, but go into one of his films expecting something exactly like the last and you won’t get it.
Kindred Spirits reteams McKee with his old buddy and Cheerleaders co-writer Chris Sivertson (taking sole writing credit here) and that film’s star Caitlin Stasey, who impressed in ACD but is absolutely sensational here. She plays Sadie, who returns home unannounced to stay indefinitely with her older sister Chloe (Thora Birch) and Chloe’s teenage daughter Nicole (Sasha Frolova). Nicole’s teenage rebellion is in full swing (accompanied by a violent temper) but she’s delighted to see her beloved aunt, and Chloe welcomes the chance to catch up with her long-absent sibling.
But Sadie isn’t well. Now that she’s in her old bedroom, partying with her high school-aged niece (and teenage boys who are mistaking them for sisters), and enjoying the care and comfort of her maternal big sister, she begins to revert to a dangerous personality who would much prefer a return to the old status quo…
This is a film that could have gone very wrong, or (worse perhaps) ended up being entirely disposable. A blend of Hitchcockian thrills, family drama and 90s psycho-thrillers about deranged interlopers coming to steal your entire life, this kind of thing only works if everybody involved is on the exact same wavelength…and they are. McKee directs with a steady hand, letting us in on the game, deftly weaving between dark comedy and drama, and nodding to the film’s predecessors without sacrificing the integrity of the characters.
And while he also delivers some pretty outrageous shocks, Kindred Spirits would be lost without its three lead performances. As mentioned, Stasey is superb, clearly having a blast with this character and nailing each of the many notes required. Sasha Frolova (The OA) gives a very strong performance as Nicole, taking the character far beyond moody teen to show her yearning for a family connection and a violent rage when betrayed. Completing the lead trio is Thora Birch, currently enjoying a long overdue comeback. She’s wonderful as the dependable Chloe, who’s just starting to allow herself the possibility of a chance of a life of her own but determined to keep her daughter on the straight and narrow. There are also excellent supporting turns from Shonagh Smith as Nicole’s best friend Shay, and the always-welcome Macon Blair as Shay’s dad and Chloe’s doting secret boyfriend Alex.
It’s so rare to find a film that manages to be self-aware enough to enjoy playing in this genre territory while still making sure the audience is fully invested in the characters, but Kindred Spirits manages to be fun, funny, shocking and sincere all at once. It’s a very skilful high wire act that only gets more impressive on reflection.
Kindred Spirits was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.