One of the things that I’ve always loved about Lucky McKee’s work is the way that he, like Jack Ketchum (with whom he collaborated on 2011’s The Woman), can unearth the kind of horror that can lurk behind the doors of an average suburban neighborhood, with a particular penchant for women-focused stories. With Kindred Spirits, McKee shows us, once again, that even the most likable figures in our community, might be out to get us.
Chloe (Thora Birch) and her almost 18-year-old daughter Nicole (Sasha Frolova) have a strained relationship, to say the least. Dad’s not in the picture and Nicole is acting out in school, punching out a snarky classmate that’s “about to talk shit.” On top of this, Chloe is in a casual and secretive relationship with Nicole’s best friend’s dad Alex (Macon Blair), who wants something more from Chloe than just sex.
Enter Sadie (Caitlin Stasey), Chloe’s bubbly, fun-loving, free-spirited younger sister who’s been out on her own for years, but after “failing at everything [she’s] ever tried”, has returned home. She has an instant bond with Nicole, who is close enough in age that her relationship with her niece is almost sisterly. Nicole is immediately buoyed by Sadie’s presence, and so is Sadie’s actual sister, Chloe. It seems like things are going to be just fine for the trio.
But Sadie has… quirks. Her effusive bubbliness conceals a deep, unsettling immaturity and ferocious jealousy of anyone that might step between her relationship with Chloe; even Alex, Nicole’s boyfriend Derek (Isai Torres), and Nicole herself. Once Sadie insinuates herself into Chloe and Nicole’s home, she lies, gaslights, and manipulates everyone around her for her own weird ends. Sadie has a way of getting right under the skin of the people orbiting her. She uses this to systematically eliminate anything that she feels might threaten, or merely take a moment of her time with Chloe.
Stasey’s performance as Sadie is the heart of Kindred Spirits, and her ability to switch between cool aunt and giggling psychopath is pitch-perfect. The way she worms her way into the family’s lives is subtle and might even seduce the audience with her charms, just as she begins to seduce the much-younger classmates of Nicole, which is particularly squirm-inducing since she’s both more mature in age and less mature in mannerism than the teen boys she preys on. She’s just so darn disarming, right up until the moment she’s braining you with a shovel. The way that McKee and writer Chris Sivertson have weaponized the kind of wide-eyed naivete and infantile mannerisms that Sadie projects is kind of masterful, and something I’ve rarely seen in horror. The performances by Birch and Frolova are excellent too, playing towards a bewilderment with Sadie that’s completely believable. Less interesting are Derek, who’s kind of a blank slate and isn’t given much to do, and Alex, whose puppy-dog love for Chloe made me want their relationship explored a little more.
If I have a major criticism of Kindred Spirits, it’s that it wraps up too quickly. Its resolution could use more time to breathe. Maybe that’s a credit to Stasey, Birch, and Forlova, but I wanted more from all of them by the end, especially once Sadie’s machinations start to come to light. It felt, to me, like the film is just getting good before it ends kind of hastily and somewhat predictably. A little more of a look into Sadie’s past beyond the flashbacks provided here would probably be welcome, and I think there’s even more discomfort to mine from what Sivertson and McKee have set up with the family and those around them. In a lot of ways, Kindred Spirits reminds me of the teen horror of my youth, the RL Stines and the Christopher Pikes with the well-worn spines that were made for quicker consumption than the meatier stories found in their Stephen King brethren.
Kindred Spirits doesn’t seem like as “big” or as high-concept a story as McKee’s May, The Woman, or even All Cheerleaders Die (with whom he collaborated with both Sivertson and Stasey). But, its slow-burn vibe hits the mark, if creeping dread is what you’re after. Stasey adds another great performance to her long list of credits here and shows that she’s more than up to the task of anchoring this film. Kindred Spirits might not be the kind of horror that shocks or thrills you in every frame, but it’s got a lot here to instill a longer-lasting sense of foreboding and leaves you wanting more.