REVIEW: Mean Spirited (2022)

dir. Jeff Ryan

Sharing a name with the fictional YouTube series that is its narrative focus, Mean Spirited opens brashly, edited to match the hyperactive prank show that its lead character runs. This feels like a stress test, the obnoxious qualities so central to the image Andy (Will Madden) puts out into the world being the ones that the viewer must push through.

Make it past this opening act however and its roster of initially unlikeable characters (apart from Daniel Rashid’s sweetly drawn Tom) and you’ll be rewarded with a compelling narrative, as Tom and his entourage head to the home of former friend Bryce (director and co-writer Jeff Ryan). Bryce has found fame but also, maybe, something more supernatural. What follows is a tense balance between humour, horror and complex themes, with well-crafted set-pieces sitting alongside great character work.

By the end of its brisk runtime Mean Spirited becomes darker but also oddly moving. The broken remains of a friendship that lie at the centre of the story gives weight to proceedings, the final moments genuinely chilling whilst also remaining morally murky. For a film that starts so brashly there is an admirable quietness here.

As such Jeff Ryan’s latest may leave a tricky first impression, but this seems the point. Ryan (and co-writer Joe Adams) boldly test the audience before allowing the film to blossom into something more compelling, complicated and human.

© Russell Bailey


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