It’s all fun and games until demon possession ruins the party. So goes Jeff Ryan’s newest horror/comedy Mean Spirited, or maybe its comedy/horror…either way, if you’re a fan of either genre, this little indie may be exactly what the witch doctor ordered.
Andy (Will Madden), a struggling YouTube vlogger who puts everything about his life into his stream, takes a trip to the Poconos with his crew. These are his friends and camera operators, Tom (Daniel Rashid), Joey (Maria DeCotis), Nikki (Michelle Veintimilla) and the wildcard party boy, Dew (Will Martin). The trip is to meet an old friend of Andy’s, Bryce (Jeff Ryan), who Andy thinks has sold out by playing the lead in a CW-type superhero show called Thunderman. There is a rift between the two that’s deeper than the sellout mantra Andy is continually saying, something much darker.
Andy is the typical immature YouTube personality. It’s all about gross-out humor and hitting someone in the balls; think Jackass with fewer stunts. He tortures those around him for a laugh, thinking only of himself and his channel. There are all the typical low budget effects and editing tricks you would find on any Gen Z YouTube channel, leaning into the found footage aspects of the genre, but as the story progresses and we get to the fancy house in the Poconos, where shit (and severed hands) really hits the fan, the focus subtly shifts from the YouTube style to more of a narrative style, working well with the change in tone.
There is a through line of “selling out” and compromising yourself for wealth and fame in a lot of Jeff Ryan’s work. In his short film That’s Hollywood Baby a desperate actor is forced to sacrifice everything in order to enter Hollywood’s gates. In the short Nailed It, which he wrote, produced, and stared in, a struggling actor is continually humiliated in the hopes of “nailing it.” There is something sadistic about a YouTube vlogger who puts everything about their life out for everyone to see, fully exposing themselves to the world, literally selling their life, to be met with middling viewership and not the stacks of cash in their dreams. Andy is obviously jealous of Bryce’s fame and fortune, but he doesn’t know at what cost, and he’s about to find out.
Humor is subjective and not universal. Some of the humor here is very childish and falls flat, grating on you after a while, but once things start going south, that takes a backseat. Some time is spent getting to know the characters and their motivations and even though the film is a brisk 96 minutes, the second act dragged just a bit. A film like this needs to nail the horror elements if it’s going to have staying power and keep fans coming back for more. The small hints and slow build to the bonkers finale are very well done. The main characters don’t know the horrific secret of their host until it’s entirely too late, seeing them, one by one, discover what is truly happening is especially fun to watch.
The themes of hypocrisy, greed, wealth, and fame are ripe for the horror genre. When the characters have to deal with real actual problems, their biases and predispositions lead to failure all around. An exorcism fails when reading the Bible has no effect, unmasking Bryce fails when Andy selfishly tries to catch him being a sellout. If Andy would have owned his past mistakes and been a better person, this snowball effect of death and destruction wouldn’t have happened. The real horror is that sometimes, selling out wins.
From robed and hooded cult members to full-on exorcisms with plenty of candles and pentagrams to make your little horror heart melt, Mean Spirited lives up to its title, and if you are a fan of horror and indie film, this is one to put on your radar.
Available on VOD and digital on February 7th, 2023.
For more information, head to The Horror Collective’s official Mean Spirited webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
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