A late announcement to the festival, Mean Spirited quickly won me over. Directed by Jeff Ryan, Mean Spirited embraces the found-footage format in new and exciting ways. As soon as I watched it I knew I wanted to speak to the mind behind it and so Jeff was the first person on my Road to FrightFest interview list. There’s much more going on in Mean Spirited than my review reveals and it is well worth you tracking it down upon release.
Arrow Video FrightFest is currently in full swing. Screening over seventy films that fit neatly under the umbrella of the dark heart of cinema, the line-up this year has some real gems hidden within. One such film is Jeff Ryan’s Mean Spirited. A new variation on the found-footage format, Mean Spirited takes on the guise of an episode of a Vlogger’s YouTube show.
The Amazing Andy (Will Madden) hosts the internet show Mean Spirited with his friends. The show is built around pranking people and generally just doing silly things. Once upon a time Andy had a co-host, Bryce (Jeff Ryan), but after he was discovered by Hollywood, Andy was left behind. Having been friends since their childhood, Andy has been incredibly hurt by Bryce’s actions and a chasm has formed between the former besties. In an attempt to rekindle their friendship, Andy and his crew are invited to join Bryce for a weekend away in his mountainside abode. However, upon arrival it becomes clear that Bryce isn’t quite himself anymore.
A common bugbear with found-footage films is the camerawork. Films such as The Blair Witch Project were ridiculed by some for the handheld shaky camera method. Since then the sub-genre has worked hard to overcome this issue. Recent years have seen a shift in the way they are filmed, helped massively by technological advances. The popularity of YouTube has also made viewers a little more open to the format. By tapping into the webisode documentary format, Ryan has found a way to make Mean Spirited accessible and visually interesting. Having Andy and his team of crew and friends all recording, means the camera angles can switch and change. This isn’t your standard ‘left as found in camera’ footage, but rather a cutting together of available materials, which makes it looks more cinematic. More thought has been put into this method than it’s just an easier, more eye-pleasing way to film. The cutting between the video streams helps build momentum and atmosphere; it keeps the viewer in the dark sometimes and gives them a leg-up in others.
As in Spree, and fellow FrightFest film Deadstream, Mean Spirited likes to have fun. This isn’t the trauma-inducing ilk of The Blair Witch Project, but rather a project that allows the humour in. The comedy is threaded in through the personalities and actions of some of the characters. With the exception of Bryce, the group have an easy shorthand with one another, their banter paving the way for more comedic moments and exchanges. Though Bryce isn’t firing off witty one-liners, the segments of the film where he’s dressed as his super famous alter-ego, Thunderman, get the odd giggle or two. Ryan gets to live his Superhero fantasy and the parodying of the Marvel and DC machines is wonderfully entertaining.
Hidden beneath the humour is a story that analyses the importance that society places on long-term friendship. The ties between those that have been friends since birth or soon after are viewed as superior to any other. Film and television shows often tell stories with this kind of friendship at its heart. Often the bonds of these connections surpass everything else, it being the only thing that can save the characters. In Mean Spirited, Ryan and co-writer Joe Adams pose the idea that sometimes these friendships can be toxic. Andy holds a lot of resentment towards Bryce, but instead of cutting him out of his life, he goes running when asked. This decision leads to his undoing. It’s refreshing to see a different exploration of this kind of relationship.
The nature of his vlog infers that Andy is suffering from the Peter Pan complex. The escapades displayed in an early montage of the show scream childish behaviour. It reinforces the idea that Andy doesn’t want to grow-up. He wants to remain a child forever, and will desperately cling onto that easy time of life, even if it means being eternally linked to someone that has become a frenemy. His way of approaching life isn’t the healthiest, but Mean Spirited doesn’t shy away from showing this. Andy isn’t really a protagonist that the audience wants to be friends with. He’s bitter and twisted with jealousy, and it’s these actions that keep the viewer as uncertain as the rest of Andy’s friends concerning his strange claims about Bryce.
Mean Spirited has an overwhelming light-hearted sense of fun. Even in its darker moments, which would mesh well with The Last Exorcism, there’s an appealing sense of awe. Whether there be good or bad things unfolding, the viewer can’t help but get drawn into the fray. Helped by the updates to its found-footage visual style, Mean Spirited feels modern and youthful. As with Andy, the viewer gets to revert back to their teenage years when watching the film. Watching horror films as a teen was always fun and Mean Spirited captures that same essence. A wild ride through the pitfalls of friendship, Mean Spirited is genre cinema at its most accessible and entertaining. Playing firmly in the range of comedy horror, Mean Spirited is a thoroughly entertaining found-footage film that has plenty to please the genre-loving crowd.
Mean Spirited is awaiting UK distribution.