28th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Kindred Spirits’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Thora Birch, Caitlin Stasey, Macon Blair, Sasha Frolova, Shonagh Smith, Isai Torres | Written by Chris Sivertson | Directed by Lucky McKee

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Directed by Lucky McKee (The Woman) and co-written by Chris Sivertson, Kindred Spirits is an enjoyable throwback to the sort of Fill-in-the-blank From Hell thrillers that were all the rage in the 1990s – think The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (Nanny From Hell), Single White Female (Roommate From Hell) and Unlawful Entry (Cop From Hell).

Thora Birch makes a welcome return to the big screen as Chloe, a single mother whose teenage daughter Nicole (Sasha Frolova) has just started seeing her first boyfriend, Derek (Isai Torres). In turn, Chloe has decided not to tell Nicole that she’s secretly seeing Alex (Macon Blair), the father of Nicole’s best friend Shay (Shonagh Smith), who’s still hoping her separated parents will get back together.

However, their lives are all upended with the arrival of Sadie (Caitlin Stasey), Chloe’s younger sister, who she raised from a young age after they lost their parents. “Aunt” Sadie immediately establishes a sister-like bond with Nicole and even begins dressing like her, but it soon becomes clear she has a deadly agenda, tied to a dark incident in her past.

Stasey delivers a knock-out performance as Sadie, immensely charming, likeable and fun on the surface, but able to flip between vulnerable and monstrous in the blink of an eye. She’s also adept at using her physicality to conform to whichever age group she’s talking to – to that end, there’s a terrifically creepy early scene where she accompanies Nicole to a teenage party (encouraging both Nicole and Shay to dress in outlandish costumes) and allows herself to be seduced by the host (Liam Booth), indulging in what seems like innocent virgin role-play for her own amusement.

Frolova is equally good as Nicole, a seemingly naïve innocent, but one with her own violent streak – when we first meet her, she punches a mean girl classmate (Audrey Gerthoffer) in the face because “she was going to talk shit”. Similarly, Birch is superb as Chloe, delivering a thoroughly convincing, compassionate performance as a woman who’s never really had an independent life of her own (she had Nicole very young) and is trying to balance her roles as mother, sister and secret lover.

McKee tips the audience early to the idea that Sadie is a wrong’un, ratcheting up the tension slowly and steadily as we wonder just what she’s up to and how far she’ll go. Accordingly, Kindred Spirits may be less of a gore-fest than the director’s previous films, but there are still a handful of icky moments to keep fans of the red stuff satisfied. One blackly comic moment in particular is guaranteed to generate provoke uncomfortable squirms and uneasy laughter in equal measure.

In addition, the film has an appealing visual aesthetic, thanks to colourful production design that pays close attention to detail. The film also makes great use of a doll’s house (rapidly becoming the horror prop du jour, after Hereditary) in a couple of great sequences that subtly (and not so subtly) illustrate Sadie’s state of mind. The film is further augmented by a superbly atmospheric score from Joe Kraemer that both evokes ’90s thrillers and somehow manages to get away with stealing bits from Bernard Hermann’s classic Vertigo theme.

There are a number of fun references scattered throughout the film, from Hitchcock classics like Vertigo and Psycho to explicit nods to the likes of Single White Female. However, McKee also adds a bravura touch of his own, with a cleverly edited, blackly comic final sequence that effectively allows you to choose your own ending.

In short, this is a hugely entertaining thriller that’s worthy of a place alongside the classics of the Fill-in-the-blank From Hell genre, thanks to assured direction, a pleasingly twisted script and a trio of superb performances from its three leads. It’s also a treat to see Thora Birch on screen again – here’s hoping this marks the beginning of a career revival for her. Are you listening, casting directors?

**** 4/5

Kindred Spirits screened at this years Arrow Video Frightfest on Friday August 23rd 2019

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