Mean Spirited (Movie Review)

In this golden age of digital media, especially with the influx of vloggers (thanks to the boom of platforms like TikTok and YouTube), found footage style films have become more common again. Director and Writer Jeff Ryan’s approach to this particular style has brought a unique flair to his films, thus setting them apart from others within the subgenre.

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For those familiar with Ryan’s work, it comes as no surprise that his solo directorial debut is a Horror Comedy that is self-aware and aware of its audience. His previous film, 2020 Mass Hysteria, was a Horror Comedy about the Salem Witch Trials; and his first feature YouthMin from 2018 was a mockumentary about a narcissistic youth pastor both showcase Ryan’s ability to break the mold to bring something fresh. This remains the case with Mean Spirited.

Making its North American premiere at Screamfest on October 18, 2022, Mean Spirited is a film that follows an aspiring YouTuber who sets out to bury the hatchet with his childhood friend who is now a major celebrity, but only to find out that he is not quite himself anymore. The Amazing Andy, aka Andrew (Will Madden: Beast Beast 2020, The Wolf of Snow Hollow 2020), is your typical run-of-the-mill influencer trying to chase viral moments. His show on YouTube, “Mean Spirited,” is a paranormal vlog series full of pranks and other shenanigans.

Andy’s childhood friend Bryce, portrayed by Jeff Ryan himself, was once his co-host before he made it big in Hollywood; leaving him and his show behind. In an attempt to rekindle things, Bryce invites Andy and his crew to his vacation home. Taking this as an opportunity to capture some killer footage for his show, Andy and his buds all head out and get more than they originally bargained for. What started out as seemingly innocent pranks soon take a turn for the worst as strange and deadly occurrences begin to pile up.

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The film takes a while to build up to the final moments, and this causes the first half of the film to drag a bit. However, in this case of the film’s vlog style direction, it works in their favor. In the world of influencers, viewers are very familiar with the tactic of “like for part two,” where the vlogger will bait you with just enough to make you continue to follow along just to see where things end. They also really play into the stereotypical unbearable content creator types that verge on being too hard to watch because they are just genuinely unlikeable.

In the case of this film, Andy clearly feels burned by Bryce, having been left behind by him as he catapulted into stardom while he is stuck pulling pranks to become the next viral trend. As much as he wants answers about their failed friendship, he also wants to use Bryce’s newfound status to gain notoriety and build his following. As the stakes continue to rise, and the events turn deadly, it is hard to care about what is happening to them but it does not make it any less entertaining to watch as it unfolds.

Mean Spirited still

Overall, Mean Spirited is a fun, modern take on the found footage film that directly translates to today’s audiences. The notion of essentially ‘selling your soul to become famous’ and the consequences that follow is all beautifully executed through Ryan’s direction. Awkward, clever, entertaining, and using pop culture to its advantage, Cryptic Rock gives Mean Spirited 3 out of 5 stars.

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