Screamfest Review: KINDRED SPIRITS
Sometimes a filmmaker makes a splash with a movie so good, they kind of get a lifetime supply of curiosity for what they do next. Lucky McKee's May is one such film - his subsequent films haven't made the same impact, but they've all been interesting and no less than "pretty good", and more importantly, they've been very different from one another. So I had no idea what to expect from Kindred Spirits when I sat down for its West Coast premiere at LA's Screamfest, knowing nothing about it beyond the fact that he directed it - which is my preferred way to watch a movie anyway, though my particular job rarely allows me to do so.
In keeping with that "go in blind" mentality, I won't divulge too much of its storyline. The film focuses on three women in Texas, one of whom is Nicole (Sasha Frolova), a teenager who is a typical high school outcast, living with her single mom (Thora Birch, and no, you're not THAT old yet - we learn Nicole was the result of a high school mistake) and doing her best to sneak around with her boyfriend. Birch's Chloe is sneaking around too - she's been hooking up with a single dad (Macon Blair) who happens to be the father of Nicole's best friend, something Chloe is not too keen for her daughter to discover.
All of these relationships are strained in one way or another with the arrival of Sadie (Caitlin Stasey), Chloe's younger sister who Nicole absolutely adores and sees more as a big sister than an aunt. It's not too long before we realize Sadie isn't quite normal, and bad things start happening, at which point I realized that this isn't another Austin bummer thriller (I was getting Red, White & Blue vibes at first) but a Lucky McKee take on the popular "Blank From Hell" thriller that was so prevalent in the '90s. You know the type: movies like Hand That Rocks The Cradle or Unlawful Entry were among their number, but it's Single White Female that will probably come to mind the most as Sadie starts copying hairstyles and moving in on _____'s boyfriend.
I'm withholding her target and ultimate goal for spoiler purposes of course, but suffice to say that watching Sadie gaslight the hell out of everyone around her (occasionally in the same sequence, as she'll tell someone a lie then go into another room and lie to them as well) is wickedly fun, thanks in no small part to Stasey's unhinged performance. She was the lead for McKee (and writer Chris Sivertson) on All Cheerleaders Die, and was one of the bright spots in that film as well, so it's not too much of a surprise she steals the film away from Birch and Frolova. There are a couple of sequences where she is trying to pull off this or that nefarious deed, coming close to being caught, and it's almost unsettling how often I found myself hoping she'd pull it off, mostly because I was having so much fun watching her turn on a dime from normal to crazy (and back), and curious how far she'd go to get what she wanted.
Apart from an abrupt conclusion, where it seems like a ten minute chunk was removed (details would require spoilers, alas - but someone completely changes their tune literally during a scene transition, with an off-screen character quickly explaining why it happened), McKee and longtime editor Zach Passero pace the film expertly, telling us relatively early that Sadie's not all there but maintaining a balance that keeps it logical why no one's catching on to her madness. They also wisely keep Nicole and Chloe from being saints themselves, so that our loyalties are never swung too far in any one direction (except for Macon Blair. We always love Macon Blair). There isn't much in terms of violence, but they make it count when it does - including a "finish the dying victim off" technique I'm not sure I've ever seen before and will likely leave a few audience members feeling queasy.
Honestly, I'd feel comfortable saying it was McKee's best since May; the characters are well rounded, and there are enough variations on the sub-genre's formula that keep it from feeling like a throwback, making it a fully engaging experience. Stasey's performance is a pitch perfect blend of creepy and fun, and her character's careful lying keeps everyone's obliviousness fairly logical, something a lot of those '90s films often lacked. It'll be playing a few more festivals before what I assume will be a VOD release - keep an eye out for it.