Kindred Spirits (2019)

Kindred Spirits has its world première on Sunday 16 June at Cinepocalypse 2019

The filmmaking careers of both Lucky McKee (May, 2002; The Woman, 2011) and Chris Sivertson (The Lost, 2006;  I Know Who Killed Me, 2007) both began in 2001 when they co-directed and co-wrote the shot-on-video All Cheerleaders Die – which they remade together on a bigger budget in 2013. Now they have collaborated again on Kindred Spirits, with McKee helming and Sivertson writing. Indeed, the film’s very title might be taken to reflect their own working relationship – although it comes with a different reference within the narrative itself. 

Once again, as with All Cheerleaders Die, the focus is on adolescent women – in this case, one genuine teen and two arrested adults. 17-year-old Nicole (Sasha Frolova) is just starting to push her boundaries by ‘messing around’ with her boyfriend Derek (Isai Torres) and by asserting herself physically against bullies in school. Her beloved Aunt Sadie (Caitlin Stasey), just eight years older than Nicole, not only can pass for a teenager, but acts as though she is the same age as her niece. And Nicole’s single mother Chloe (Thora Birch), whose own mother and father died when she was young leaving her to look after her half-sister Sadie, and who had Nicole when she was herself in her teens, is only just now starting to relive the childhood that she lost to premature parenthood – for she is engaged in an illicit affair with Alex (Macon Blair), the father of Nicole’s best friend Shay (Shonagh Smith), and tentatively exploring the idea of taking the relationship beyond furtive encounters in the bedroom. 

Kindred Spirits opens with something akin to a primal scene, as a very young Nicole (Olivia Rose Lazell) and the teenaged Sadie (Valerie Jauregui) run and play in the dappled sunlight of the woods outside their home. Chasing her toy airplane, little Nicole runs into the road and is nearly hit by an oncoming car, with Sadie pulling her away just in the nick of time. There is then a match cut to the teenaged Nicole, standing by the same road years later, even as we still hear the echo of her younger self declaring, “I owe you my life, Aunt Sadie.” Now Nicole worships her absent aunt, modelling her own short-haired look on a picture of Sadie that she carries in a locket. Sadie has always insisted that she and Nicole are like ‘kindred spirits’ – the same eccentricity, the same impulsiveness, the same anger issues. That last characteristic has just seen Nicole suspended from her high school, to Chloe’s frustration. Yet when Sadie returns, as though conjured by the bickering mother and daughter, the initial positive vibe that she brings with her to the household will soon turn to something more toxic, as the aunt, a needy and manipulative child in an adult’s body, works to claim what she regards as her own and to destroy anyone who stands in her way.

At various points during Kindred Spirits, we return to that impressionistic primal scene in the woods, each time told with slightly altered details, as the soundtrack from Joe Kraemer (The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot, 2018) riffs on Bernard Hermann’s theme for Vertigo (1958), underscoring the motifs of blurred identities, dangerous obsessions and echoing repetitions out of the past that McKee’s film shares with Hitchcock’s. Sadie is locked into her formative younger years – her trauma at the loss of her parents, her fixation on big sister Chloe as a mother figure, her love of rôle play, masks and (doll’s) house-wrecking. At first Nicole bonds with Sadie through girl talk and dress-ups, but as the aunt’s disturbed psyche and bunny boiler tendencies come to the fore, Kindred Spirits unmasks its own split personality, veering from a drama about the messy interrelationship between three women towards the shadowy spaces of a more conventional thriller. Nicole may copy her aunt, but really it is Sadie who longs to replace her niece in Chloe’s affections, and to remain forever lost in her own immature fantasies.

Reminiscent to a degree of Rémy Bennett and Émilie Richard-Froozan’s Buttercup Bill (2014), this insidious story of unresolved guilt and arrested development, of transference and surrogacy, has enough complexity of character to ground its more manic third act – and even that finale plays out in a schizophrenic manner, both as a fantasy version of the perfect crime, and as a more anchored, adult perspective on the real-world connection between act and consequence. The final sequence, reverting again to Hitchcock, is pure Psycho (1960) – and just as tragic in its image of extreme family dysfunction.

© Anton Bitel