Mean Spirited | Film Threat

As horror evolves to fit the cultural zeitgeist of the times, the “found footage” subgenre has morphed from its last incarnation of security-cam horrors of “Paranormal Activity” to the influencer/vlogosphere.

Recently, we’ve witnessed a number, including Deadstream, Sissy, Spree, Making Monsters, Shook, and now Mean Spirited. And considering the average in-your-face personalities that populate the YouTube/TikTok universes, they make for easy targets for comeuppance from any harmful elements that come their way. 

Writer/director/star Jeff Ryan goes to considerable lengths to build a world within which his characters exist. Ryan plays Bryce, a now-famous childhood friend of vlogger “Amazing Andy,” a prank-laden show in which its host Andy (Will Madden) feels compelled to maintain his in-your-face persona at all costs. Meanwhile, Bryce has moved on to mainstream success as the television superhero “Thunderman.”

To celebrate his channel’s 35k followers, Andy corrals a team to visit former co-host Bryce’s posh new home situated in the Pocono Mountains. Along for the ride are videographer Joey (Maria DeCotis), obnoxious party boy Dew (Will Martin), the sweetly dorky Tom (Daniel Rashid), and Tom’s wannabe-actress girlfriend Nikki (Michelle Veintimilla). 

“…bloody-stained postcards, tell-tale ouija boards, and a series of accidents all threaten to disrupt all expectations.”

Andy intends to use the visit to document Bryce as a Hollywood sell-out to his audience, while Bryce seems to have intentions of his own that are not inherently clear at first. After a number of occurrences, including bloody-stained postcards, tell-tale ouija boards, and a series of accidents, all threaten to disrupt all expectations.

One by one, the participants begin to exhibit strange behavior, with Ryan carefully choreographing everything through a mix of his edited “show material” as well as behind-the-scenes moments that drop breadcrumbs for viewers throughout. 

The care and consideration he takes to establish his cast as a funny, functioning “team” are key to Mean Spirited’s success as a feature. All the over-edited, attention-deficit footage from his show feels light and legit. It’s particularly effective when their prankster personas must confront darker elements afoot. 

Mean Spirited also has much more on its mind than goofs and gore, with plenty to say about the price of fame and the necessity for attention. This is the follow-up to Ryan’s fast and funny Mass Hysteria in  2019 (which follows a group of Salem Witch re-enactors and also finds the laughter within slaughter). The film is not only more polished on a technical level but is a big leap forward in storytelling and character development as well. 

Mean Spirited is a smart, savvy entry into the found footage genre and one that will no doubt motivate an audience to “smash that subscribe button” on Ryan’s future filmmaking endeavors.

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