Director: Lucky McKee
Writer: Chris Sivertson
Producer: Ash Christian, Michael Moran
Stars: Caitlin Stasey, Sasha Frolova, Macon Blair, Shonagh Smith, Isai Torres, Audrey Gerthoffer, Thora Birch
Chloe and her teenage daughter Nicole have their lives unknowingly manipulated when Chloe¡¯s free-spirited sister Sadie unexpectedly returns home for a visit.
¡°Kindred Spirits¡± doesn¡¯t deliver the experience you might expect of a movie directed by Lucky McKee. By design, the film doesn¡¯t shake your mind or shock your eyes to the same degree as ¡°The Woman,¡± for instance. Don¡¯t take that to mean the movie doesn¡¯t challenge conceptions and conventions though. It definitely does.
It¡¯s less surprising that ¡°Kindred Spirits¡± ended up airing on Lifetime Movie Network. Chris Sivertson¡¯s script trades extensively in mother-daughter melodrama, high school social systems, and teen angst typical of a basic cable MOW. Don¡¯t take that to mean the film doesn¡¯t feature a wicked bite capable of chomping through a tamed tone whenever whim dictates. It definitely does that too.
Nicole thinks of her aunt Sadie often. She hasn¡¯t seen Sadie in over a year, yet still reflects on a time ten years ago when Sadie stopped her from getting hit by a car. It¡¯s not that things at home with Nicole¡¯s single mom Chloe are all that bad. It¡¯s just that Sadie always seemed like a sister to her. That¡¯s the kind of confidante Nicole can use now that she¡¯s navigating intimacy with a new boyfriend, and Chloe¡¯s preoccupation with a romance of her own makes it harder for them to connect through Nicole¡¯s moping moodiness.
Nicole gets her wish when, after mom brings her home to serve a school suspension for beating a bully, she finds Sadie unexpectedly outside their door. Sadie anxiously awaits a fresh start in familiar territory, she says. Chloe seems happy to have her younger sister back home, leaving Sadie and her excited niece to pick up where they left off, talking boys in bed, dressing up in costumes, even hanging out at high school parties together.
Nicole¡¯s friend Shay thinks it¡¯s strange when Sadie dons a wig to look more like her niece. Nicole finds it flattering. When Sadie suddenly starts speaking in a childlike voice, Chloe just passes off her sister¡¯s behavior as another gag from a lovably carefree kook. What neither Nicole nor Chloe suspect is that Sadie is more unstable than she seems. And the manipulation Sadie has in mind turns out to be more terrifying than either of them could have predicted.
One of the highest hurdles to jump with ¡°Kindred Spirits¡± has to do with the ages portrayed by the three leads. Sasha Frolova was apparently 23 years old while playing 17-year-old Nicole, making her just two years younger in reality than 25-year-old Sadie. Even though Thora Birch is certainly of an age where she can play a former teen mom with a grown daughter, it¡¯s still hard to see her as such when her roles have historically skewed much younger.
For a while, it¡¯s difficult to accept everyone at face value. Frolova has a habit of vertically hopping when she walks, as though she¡¯s simultaneously skipping and pistoning her limbs like an awkward child. Accompanied by her unusual excitement over dress-up games and a homemade dollhouse, Frolova¡¯s oversell seems stranger when she already appears old enough to be in the same demographic as the other two women. In early scenes with Birch, I kept thinking they¡¯d be more believable if they were playing sisters, or if Frolova was at least playing someone in college.
The film keeps its audience tantalizingly clueless about where it¡¯s initially headed, leaving your mind¡¯s eye to dart over every detail. Coming up with questions, even ones that wander outside the screen, are a consequence of the wonder those mysterious intentions inspire.
Once the women fully melt into their roles and commandingly take over the film¡¯s focus however, I stopped inventing uncertainties about the cast. As the askew world crystallizes around them, their imaginary ages and characterization decisions start making a strange sort of sense. ¡°Kindred Spirits¡± has a twinge of fairytale fantasy to it. Part of that has to do with an oddly ill-fitting score that sounds stolen from a lesser ¡°Harry Potter¡± sequel. But the deepening dynamics between Sadie, Nicole, and Chloe ignite embers of smoldering suspense so that ¡°Kindred Spirits¡± begins burning as a dreamy fable formed from suburbia secrets.
Sasha Frolova and Thora Birch firmly hold either handlebar, but Caitlin Stasey powerfully pedals the bike as Sadie. No matter what setting Sadie gets set to, and she has a full range from warmly welcoming smile to completely callous icicle eyes, Stasey presents all facets as equally authentic. Even attention afforded to idle chitchat contributes convincingness to make Sadie one of the more popped versions of this archetype we¡¯ve seen depicted, and she barely comes with much backstory. Stasey instead builds Sadie from persuasive poise and a personable presence that magnetizes the screen.
¡°Kindred Spirits¡± basically becomes a ¡°(Blank) from Hell¡± thriller a la ¡°Fatal Attraction¡± or ¡°The Intruder¡± (review here). What¡¯s novel about this take is Sadie doesn¡¯t boil rabbits or resort to direct physical aggression. She¡¯s potentially more frightening than a psychopath seeking revenge because she orchestrates mean mental mischief designed to amuse/appease her second self. Like a coiled viper, Sadie is more of a disquieting threat. The restraint in her manipulative machinations creates tension from wanting to see how close she will get to the cliff while wondering if, when, and how other people will recognize the traps they don¡¯t know they¡¯ve triggered.
I¡¯d dock more points from the review rating for technical trip-ups such as strange slo-mos and curious edits, except I¡¯m not certain where those scars come from. LMN at a minimum censored swearing. Poorly placed commercial breaks also interrupted scenes at odd intervals to where I felt like material may have been omitted. I¡¯ll afford the film some benefit of the doubt since certain slips may have been mandatory trims for TV, although you should season that presumption with salt.
VAGUE POTENTIAL SPOILERS
I wish I could be confident that the conclusion¡¯s clunkiness comes from network notes too. A ¡°happy ending¡± reshoot could be the culprit, but maybe the final few minutes were manufactured to be messy no matter what. I initially applauded the outcome¡¯s apparent direction for being completely cruel to a certain someone. Then comes a swerve where an offscreen revelation pins conveniently different fates on the primary people. I can tolerate things working out ¡°the way they¡¯re supposed to¡± for a film of this nature. Yet we¡¯re still robbed of scenes such as seeing Chloe¡¯s reaction among other moments that should accompany that satisfaction, making the finale¡¯s hectic hurriedness appear even more like an 11th hour reedit.
The weird wrap-up does damage to the film¡¯s takeaway flavor. Not nearly enough to dominate an otherwise intriguing denouement however. Ably aided by her two co-stars, Caitlin Stasey¡¯s highlight-packed performance tows ¡°Kindred Spirit¡± through its troughs and jets it right over each peak. It¡¯s a project that meets in the middle considering where Lucky McKee and Lifetime typically tread independent of one another. But the unlikely marriage of their respective aesthetics makes for a thriller whose teeth tear into atypical tones.
Review Score: 75