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Mean Spirited (2022) Review

Just when you think the “found footage” sub-genre has done it all, indie filmmakers are figuring out creative ways to lean on the novelty. Mean Spirited is about a YouTube content creator who’s channel focuses on pranks and his in-your-face persona.

Andy (Will Madden) has a following, but it is nowhere near he wants it to be. Bryce (Jeff Ryan), his childhood friend and former collaborator, had a falling out and would go on to a successful film career by acting in a lead role in a Marvel-esque super hero movie.

With ulterior motives to gain more views, Andy and his crew decide to bury the hatchet while filming the whole bloody affair. “Hatchet” and “bloody”, being the operative words…

Mean Spirited (2022)
Production Company: First-Name Films
Director: Jeff Ryan
Release Date: August 28, 2022 (U.K)

The story of Mean Spirited is very straightforward, it does not take a lot to understand where the mysteries are heading. Many of the clues are blatantly obvious and there is a lot of telegraphing of where the plot will go.

What elevates Mean Spirited is its excellent cast and their performances. Every character feels surprisingly real for a comedy focused on a demonic cult and a brash YouTube personality. It does help that the actors have decent material to work with and have natural delivery.

Will Madden as Andy is especially electric in his role. He truly looks and acts like a real YouTuber who is too old for his audience and never let go. The segments where he puts on his persona are especially convincing and the obnoxious editing used is very authentic to the style of prankster content creator.

Andy is a man who is deeply torn. There is an element of him wanting to have huge success by any means but is intensely envious of Bryce’s success. He is flawed, but still does have some heart in him.

The same cannot be said for Bryce who comes off very weird, cold and deliberately artificial. The actor who plays him is also the writer/director, which is impressive considering all the responsibilities that come with making a film. He has otherworldly features and does look like he would have been cast in a tent pole super hero film.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the actors improvised most of their dialogue. There are no cheesy lines and characters realistically talk over each other sometimes.

One of the best character driven scenes is a very nervous and fidgety Andy sitting down with Bryce outside as they have a back and forth of wits. The scene is tense and works thanks to the effort put into developing these characters.

At times, Mean Spirited feels less like a traditional horror-comedy and is more like a quirky mumble-core film. Most scenes in the film are characters talking and the drama is a result of dialogue and interaction. For a horror-comedy, the attempts at anything horrifying or tense are limited.

Production design is very limited, even for a raw found footage style movie. Usually with these kinds of films, the filmmakers rely on various real settings. Mean Spirited mostly relies on one large house and what appears to be an abandoned hotel.

The abandoned hotel is barely used. Most of the story is set in Bryce’s mansion and what the viewers are witnessing is the raw, unedited footage that would normally get cut out of a YouTube video. Realistically, it makes sense, but it is not terribly exciting to look at.

Around the second act, Mean Spirited gets some pacing issues. The mid section of the story drags out for a long time. The movie runs 94 minutes and it feels longer. With a tighter edit running between 85 to 90 minutes, Mean Spirited might overcome the 2nd act lull.

Found footage movies rely on immersion to draw the viewer in. The grounded and hand-held camerawork that is usually handled by the cast can go far when making a movie feel more real and Mean Spirited usually achieves it.

Where it fumbles is when there are instances of background music that would not exist in the universe of the characters. Having non diegetic sound or music edited into the film seems like a mistake.

It was distracting when it does happen and manages to take the viewer out of the moment. This was maybe done as a “punch-up” for a scene that was lacking in atmosphere.

Mean Spirited really needed to go further with its scares. The foundation is already very solid and the characters are fleshed out and likeable. Instead of extended scenes of characters talking to fill out the run time, there could have been tense situations that flesh them out.

The scary scenes could have been punctuated with some kind of joke or be an amusing call-back to an earlier character establishing moment. The filmmakers probably lacked the means to make more expansive horror set-pieces, but Mean Spirited does manage to engage with the strength of its characters.

Mean Spirited was reviewed with a screener provided by First-Name Films. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

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The Verdict: 7

The Good

  • Cast deliver convincing performances
  • Authentic portrayal of obnoxious YouTube personality
  • Amusing gags
  • Character development emotional core drives the story
  • Novel approach to the "found footage" genre

The Bad

  • Story meanders in the drawn-out second act
  • Needed to be scarier and inappropriate use of non-diegetic music
  • Some plot elements do not get pay-off

About

A youth destined for damnation.