Frightfest: Mean Spirited (2022)

Director: Jeff Ryan

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Starring: Will Madden, Jeff Ryan, Michelle Veintimilla, Daniel Rashid, Maria DeCotis, Will Martin

Within a room lit a foreboding shade of red, a small television plays a video dated from 1999. In full colour, the footage shows a boy playing a trick on a grumpy old man before things go wrong, while another boy records the entire thing on his video-camera. This traumatizing event is an intriguing way to open the film, while setting up the key characters.

Desperate for attention, vlogger Andy (Will Madden) releases videos devoted to him playing mean-spirited pranks on his friends. When they're all invited by former friend Bryce (Jeff Ryan) to his new house, Andy sees this as a chance to reconnect with his old best-friend while uncovering why things changed between them through a "vlogumentary". The plans fall apart, as a demonic presence starts tormenting the group.

From the use of filters to transitions, director Jeff Ryan has fun making the film resemble a YouTube video as the desperate cartoonish inclusions to maximize views are a canny representation of Andy. He's so focused on making content for his channel that he overlooks how he's irritating everyone, especially when making his good-natured cameraman Tom (Daniel Rashid) the butt of his jokes. Ryan and co-writer Joe Adams are working with a familiar arc, yet ensure it's depicted in an engaging way 

There's a notable tension between former best-friends Andy and Bryce, who have both drifted apart to differently use their on-screen personas to mask their insecurities. It hurts Andy that he's no longer as close to his childhood friend, although he avoids those feelings by diving into making videos. This focus leaves him oblivious to what's clear, such as how his actions impact others or why a window was left open.

The story is seen through the "vlogumentary", with the found-footage format effectively delivering creepiness while not forgetting about the characters. The exploration of an abandoned hotel is a skin-crawling highlight, while a familiar criticism of the format is tackled head-on by linking Andy not putting down the camera to his desire to be seen by others. What's key are how the cast effectively sells the on-screen relationships, breathing life into characters regardless of how much material they have.

As the mysteries pile-up, there's much intrigue which leads to an interesting pay-off that informs the characters, although that journey feels less than satisfying. While a running gag involving an aspiring actor is unnecessary, it doesn't diminish from this effective tale about people being warped into something unrecognizable due to the hollow ways they approach a desire to be seen.

Mean Spirited made its World Premiere at Frightfest 2022