Andy, A wannabe YouTuber decides to head out and visit an old friend Bryce in an attempt to find out why he abandoned their prank channel, “Mean Spirited”, when he found his own success in Hollywood. As the two stumble through trying to rekindle their relationship, the demonic force behind Bryce’s success makes itself known to Andy and his film crew.
Mean Spirited is Jeff Ryan’s solo directorial debut. His previous film, Mass Hysteria (2020), a horror-comedy about the Salem Witch Trials, was released by The Horror Collective and acquired by Shudder.
Found footage horror, specifically that which leans into ‘influencer’ culture has become a rather oversaturated genre with varying quality. Regardless, fan favorites like Deadstream, to controversial fan favorites like Dashcam, prove that audiences love to see the obnoxious personas bred in the internet age meet a ghastly demise. Mean Spirited certainly occupies a similar space with Andy and his crew running a clickbait prank site where ‘adults’ act like teenagers in a bid to appeal to the pre-teen/teen market. Andy, the host of the show, carries that smug self-assuredness and boastful way of talking that makes him desirable fodder.
However, the way that Mean Spirited transforms Andy from a forgettable clout chaser into an endearing hero coming to terms with his own faults acts as the production’s greatest triumph. This is established through a strong script from Joe Adams and Jeff Ryan that keeps the audience rooting for Andy. In addition, the script has a subtle comedic tone that keeps the tone updated and entertaining.
The performances are solid with Will Madden (Andy) transforming from an obnoxious internet leech to an intriguing hero against the forces of evil. Director Jeff Ryan, who also plays Bryce, exudes confidence and allows the sinister origin of his popularity to slowly show itself to the crew in a convincing matter. However, the biggest standout here is Michelle Veintimilla as Nikki, her enthusiasm transforming into satanic glee that always steals the show.
Despite all the positives, Mean Spirited does little to stand out in the horror genre, the scares are light, the dark humor does not reach the absurdity it should with such an animated cast, and the occult elements feel underutilized and do little to escalate the tension. Nothing is handled poorly, rather the end result is a serviceable horror film that works better as a vehicle for the charming script and strong performances. Unfortunately, with 2022 boasting some of the most memorable entries into the found footage horror, Mean Spirited is barely notable when looking at what a phenomenal year it has been for the genre in both inventiveness and entertainment value.
Still, Mean Spirited still marks itself as a highly enjoyable outing thanks to a clever script and memorable performances from a strong cast. While the production is unlikely to be the breakout film of Jeff Ryan, particularly when put under the scrutiny of the rabid found footage fanbase, it gives plenty of reason to be excited to see how he will move forward on any upcoming projects.
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