Mean Spirited (2023) Offers Passable Laughs and Commentary on Internet Culture
Title: Mean Spirited
First Non-Festival Release: February 7, 2023 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Jeff Ryan
Writer: Joe Adams, Jeff Ryan
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Starring: Jeff Ryan, Will Madden, Daniel Rashid
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
As time goes on, influencers continue to garner a specific hold on popular culture and their place in media. Divisive in nature and appealing to niche groups, influencers and content creators can be grating when thrust upon audiences outside their targeted demographics.
Mean Spirited focuses on this exact phenomenon with the Amazing Andy (Will Madden), host of a burgeoning Youtube channel that he makes with his friends. Their latest endeavor involves vlogging their weekend trip away to reconnect with their old friend and hot Hollywood star Bryce (Jeff Ryan). Things take a turn, however, when the crew is besieged by a swarm of demons.
Another entry into the influencer found footage subgenre, Mean Spirited lacks the comedic prowess or scares to justify its name.
Beginning much like every other found footage film, Mean Spirited introduces audiences to the irritating influencer Andy and his crew of unlikable friends. Of course, there is nothing wrong with annoying protagonists when done right but Mean Spirited fails to convince the audience of this dynamic. For how little of a following Andy has, his quest to prank his friends reeks of immaturity and desperation, which fits into the narrative. Why do they stay though? Varying degrees of narcissism, ignorance, and vanity explains the group sticks together out of convenience and the hope that it may amount to some future internet fame.
Much of the conflict in Mean Spirited stems from Andy’s jealousy of Bryce. Both as a vehicle to get the group together and to break down each’s complicated relationship with fame, their relationship showcases how grudges cannot be broken when issues are left unresolved. Bryce hates Andy for forcing him to participate in a prank that changed his life forever while Andy is jealous of the fame Bryce has garnered because of his film career. Andy’s relentless pursuit of the limelight puts pressure on those around him in danger while holding him back from achieving his goals.
When the film begins to escalate in its third act, any sense of control is erased from the narrative. The unfurling of relationships, the gradual introduction of red flags, and its reasonable grasp on grounded supernatural horror all fall apart in the end. Its disjointed third act cobbles together a narrative of ill-conceived reasons to further along the narrative and maintain Andy’s ignorance to his situation. This culminates in a series of low stakes gags and set pieces that neither land many laughs or scares. In the end, it feels like a letdown considering the buildup created by the film.
Mean Spirited isn’t without its brighter points. While it doesn’t crucify its subject as much as other recent entries in the subgenre, it does offer a nice critique of ‘yes-man’ culture that pervades much of the internet sphere, regurgitating cheap, insufferable clones of Logan Paul-esque creators. Andy’s self-absorption and inability to see beyond himself and his needs is necessary for this story to progress and makes for some solid commentary on the support of such creators in real life. Beyond the story, Mean Spirited makes use of its premise by giving the audience plenty to laugh at in its runtime. Not every joke lands, but there are quite a few unexpected laughs and gags that make it worth tuning in for.
For a low budget independent horror feature, Mean Spirited is a passable found footage film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. For those who love unlikable protagonists, commentary on social media and the influence of influencers, or DIY styled horror features, Mean Spirited is most likely up your alley. For those seeking a bit more bite from their horror, it may be best to look elsewhere, as there isn’t much to praise beyond the fall of a caustic internet personality. Either way, only those who summon up the courage to watch will discover which side of fame they will fall to after Mean Spirited.
Overall Score? 5/10