[Cinepocalypse 2019 World Premiere Review] Kindred Spirits

While the 80s have been killing it at the theatre and on TV, movies are cyclical and what was old is new again. And what’s new are filmmakers turning an eye to the 90s. Particularly the 90s thriller. Just a few months ago, Greta camped its way into some people’s hearts as it worked its 90s charm. And even the VOD release of Beneath the Leaves dabbled in the types of thriller adaptions like Kiss the Girls that plagued the cinemas for awhile. So it’s only fitting that Lucky McKee, who got his start at the very beginning of the aughts, would turn his eye to the psychosexual thrillers that were all the rage.

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We’re first introduced to Nicole when she’s a little girl (played by Olivia Rose Lazell), dressed in a butterfly costume and giggling while her slightly older (give or take 7 years older) aunt Sadie (Valeria Jauregui) chases after, laughing and holding a foam airplane. An errant toss of the plane sends it hurtling into the street and the giggling Nicole chases after it before being yanked back and saved by Sadie as a car passes.

“I owe you my life, Aunt Sadie,” the young Nicole says as the perspective changes to an older Nicole (Sasha Frolova), a high schooler with an adorably cute boyfriend named Derek (Isai Torres). As they do what Billy Loomis would call a PG-13 session of heavy petting, we’re quickly introduced to her mom Chloe (Thora Birch) who is doing an R-rated session of heavy petting with Alex (Macon Blair). Alex is the father of Nicole’s best friend Shay (Shonagh Smith), and he and Chloe are keeping their relationship on the DL, much to Alex’s chagrin.

Normal life is uprooted by the reappearance of Chloe’s much younger sister Sadie (Caitlin Stasey), who has vague reasons for being gone for a year. Aunt Sadie is a badass with long, curvy hair and she sports a leather jacket and ass-hugging pants. She’s the free-spirited sister to Chloe’s more demure and grounded personality. Chloe had to raise Nicole on her own, after all, and she’s at a point in her life where she’s successful and able to mingle.

But while Chloe and Nicole are happy to welcome Sadie back into their home and lives, there’s something off about our free-spirited little sister. And it seems that nothing will get in her way of having the family she used to have, regardless of the consequences.

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As I watched Kindred Spirits, I was immediately struck at the 90s of it all. Sadie wants to Single White Female herself back into the family. And it begins with the way she styles a wig to look just like her niece Nicole…complete with a red streak. But Nicole doesn’t see anything wrong with it; they’re “kindred spirits,” after all. The age difference between them doesn’t help, particularly since she could be mistaken for Nicole’s age. And while Nicole is maturing, it seems that Sadie is regressing. It’s like a Benjamin Button scenario between aunt and niece…but this meet in the middle isn’t exactly going to end well.

The score by Joe Kraemer also unsettles with a mix of almost carnival glee and fairy tale grandness. It perfect establishes Sadie’s frame of mind, stuck in the past when she was a kid, playing dress-up and writing “Once Upon a Time” stories bout The Edward Sisters. It almost has an Amblin-esqe feel to the score, as if we’re watching a kids drama where Nicole and Sadie will rush off on adventures while mama Chloe looks on, shaking her head wryly. Kids will be kids, she’d say. Except they’re not. And the score starts to add in ominous notes to stress that this isn’t a happy movie; particularly in one gruesome but fantastic practical effect gag that had me…well, gagging.

Kindred Spirits, written by Chris Sivertson (who’s probably best known as the director of I Know Who Killed Me), is probably Lucky McKee’s most commercial and accessible work. And as much as I love May and was disturbed by The Woman, it might be my favorite of his. A lot of it has to do with the fantastic acting and against-type casting. It’s weird seeing punky Thora Birch playing a mother.

And Caitlin Stasey, who brought such charm and pathos to her role as Claire on my favorite TV show Please Like Me, goes full camp as the movie goes from happy family reunion to thriller. It, again, reminded me of how Isabelle Huppert just went for it in her performance as Greta. She obviously relished playing the unhinged sister and the way she would flit back and forth between an adult and a kid was a camp performance for the ages.

I loved Kindred Spirits and it’s nice to have McKee back with a vengeance.