Some pairs seem like they were made for each other, like peanut butter and jelly, rhythm and blues, or bacon and eggs. On top of those three (and the many, many others), you can also add another combo, one that movie fans know all about: horror and comedy. While laughs and scares may seem like total opposites, the truth is that horror comedy has a long and hallowed tradition, stretching back almost as far as horror cinema itself. These two contrary genres go surprisingly well together, and that’s why I was excited to check out Mean Spirited. It’s a found footage-horror comedy that seemed right up my alley, so I couldn’t wait to see what it had in store.
Mean Spirited was directed by Jeff Ryan, and it stars Ryan himself, Michelle Veintimilla, Will Madden, Daniel Rashid, Neville Archambault, and Charlie Pollock. It’s about a struggling YouTuber named Andy who takes some of his friends to visit a former member of their group, Bryce, and he wants to find out why Bryce left them. However, before they even arrive, strange things begin happening to them, and when they finally get to Bryce’s house, they realize that he’s not the same person they used to know…quite literally.
Right from the get-go, I had a tough time getting into Mean Spirited. For about the first 10 minutes or so, it looks and sounds like it was shot by a stereotypical Gen Z social media influencer, and it’s super annoying. It slows down and speeds up at various parts, it features some obnoxious “special effects” (you’ll know why I put that in quotes if you watch the movie), and the background music feels like it’s meant to artificially pump you up.
To be fair, I get that this is just supposed to represent who Andy is. This is how he makes his YouTube videos, and in that respect, I have to give director Jeff Ryan credit. He totally nailed that aesthetic. However, I still found it a bit too irritating for my tastes, so I just couldn’t get into the film in the beginning.
Thankfully though, Mean Spirited doesn’t stay like that the entire time. The annoying YouTube-esque elements begin to fade out after about 10 or 15 minutes, and while they never go away entirely, they stopped being a problem quickly enough that they didn’t ruin the movie for me.
Instead, the characters and the humor ruined it. Let’s start with the characters. These people just aren’t very likable. In fact, they’re downright unlikeable. I would never want to hang out with this group, and seeing them on screen wasn’t much better. I simply couldn’t connect with them, so after a while, I just checked out emotionally and stopped caring about them.
That being said, I do have to acknowledge that the acting in Mean Spirited is pretty good. Like good heels (bad guys) in pro wrestling, almost the entire cast does an excellent job of portraying these obnoxious people. In fact, they’re so good that I almost did care about the characters. As Andy and his friends were traveling to Bryce’s house, I found myself starting to like them a bit, so I thought I was going to end up enjoying the movie.
But when they arrived at their destination, that all changed. From the moment I first met Bryce, he just felt wrong to me. Sure, he’s supposed to be weird and a bit off, but that’s not what I mean. The performance just felt unnatural and a little wooden, so I couldn’t get into the character. He threw off the chemistry the rest of the cast had with one another, so from then on, my dislike for the characters began to outweigh my appreciation of the performances, and it stayed that way for the rest of the film.
On top of that, I also found the humor in Mean Spirited quite disappointing. I love horror comedies, so I was really looking forward to having a good laugh with this movie, but the jokes simply didn’t land with me. In fact, there were only a couple of lines in the entire movie that even made me inwardly chuckle a bit, and everything else fell completely flat.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the horror aspect. By and large, I thought it was pretty good, so this is hands down the best thing about the film. It comes in fits and starts throughout the first two acts, but whenever it comes to the fore, it’s quite effective. It’s more about eerily atmospheric shots than outright scares, and as most hardcore horror fans will agree, it’s better than way.
Then, when the third act begins, Mean Spirited actually becomes quite creepy. I was really enjoying it for a few minutes, but then the comedy came back and ruined it all over again. Like a lot of horror comedies, this one also tries to play its horror elements for laughs in the final act, and it just didn’t work for me. It killed the one thing I was really enjoying at that point, so when the credits began to roll, I walked away sorely disappointed.
To be fair, comedy can be tough to gauge as a critic. It’s arguably the most subjective thing in a movie, so just because I didn’t laugh with this film doesn’t mean you won’t either. I’m pretty sure there’s a segment of fans out there who will find Mean Spirited pretty funny, so if you get the chance to check it out and you’re thinking of watching it, your best bet is to probably look at a number of reviews and see what different people thought of it.
But for me, the comedy simply didn’t work, and the rest of the movie wasn’t much better. Sure, it had some good horror at times, but that wasn’t nearly enough to outweigh the poor characters and the lack of laughs. So at the end of the day, I’m sad to say I wouldn’t recommend Mean Spirited.
Mean Spirited had its world premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest on August 28.