It’s weird to see Thora Birch cast as a mother when we’re so used to seeing her portray strange and cynical teenagers, such as Jane Burnham in American Beauty (1999) and Enid in Ghost World (2001). But twenty years later in Kindred Spirits, which had its European premiere at FrightFest, Birch plays Chloe, a single mother to Nicole (Sasha Frolova), her very own rebellious teenager. Chloe and Nicole’s normal lives are interrupted by the return of Chloe’s cool and free-spirited younger sister Sadie (Caitlin Stasey). Having been gone for a year, the film doesn’t ever let us know where Sadie was – but perhaps it doesn’t matter.
Sadie quickly inserts herself back into their lives. She chaperones Nicole and her friend Shay (Shonagh Smith) to a high school party and styles a wig to look like Nicole’s hair. Shay says it’s weird, but Nicole is quick to dismiss it as she enjoys the attention. She and Sadie are kindred spirits after all. Plus Sadie saved Nicole from being hit by a car when they were younger, further allowing Nicole to idolize her cool aunt. It’s a flashback that is repeated throughout the film, but it’s altered slightly each time, leaving us to question its significance and validity. Sadie also meddles in Chloe’s secret relationship with Shay’s father Alex (Macon Blair), and it soon becomes evident that Sadie has an ulterior motive as her mental state starts to fracture.
Sadie will stop at nothing to have her old life back, even if that means severing the delicate family bond between mother and daughter. During various parts of the film, Sadie reverts back to behaving like a teenager – as though she’s trapped in her adolescence after suffering a trauma. She is both mature and childish, rendering parts of the narrative unreliable as we’re not sure what has happened, what is happening and what are just parents of Sadie’s immature fantasies. Stasey embodies a lot of manipulative energy as she quickly changes between cool aunt, lost teen and deranged lunatic.
Things unfold slowly, like a psychological thriller from the 90s which offers some promising gore in its third act when things really kick-off. It feels very Hitchcock meets Single White Female (1992). The score is playful with an air of tension, which complements Sadie’s ever-changing personality. Tense atmosphere fills the screen throughout, but the film takes a little too long to get to the point. Despite this, it’s impossible to look away from the captivating performances and suffocating dread.
Writer/director Lucky McKee has been making female-centric horror films since the early 2000s, allowing his unique voice to explore the lives of imperfect and unusual women. His titular characters from May (2002) and The Woman (2011) are weird and often unlikeable – capable of doing the good, the bad and the ugly. This is where Sadie fits in, with Stasey delivering an incredibly strong and mesmerizing performance. McKee’s films always feature strong character work and Kindred Spirits carries on his tradition of exploring disturbed women. The film feels more toned down when compared to McKee’s others, but this isn’t a criticism as Kindred Spirits retains McKee’s signature traits while delivering a great thriller that will keep you glued to the screen.