There’s something terrifying about the found footage technique when it comes to making horror films, something even scarier than a traditionally shot film. When done correctly, such films transcend the suspension of disbelief and make the audience feel as if they’re witnessing something that actually happened, and this adds an extra layer of fear to the experience. When they’re done poorly, however, it often times drags the entire film down with it.

            Mean Spirited is essentially a story about a failed friendship and the exploration of the aftermath. Andy is a not quite successful vlogger who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to various pranks. The channel isn’t exactly a failure, but it’s not nearly as successful as Andy would like it to be, although not for a lack of ambition or charm on Andy’s part. Adding to his bitterness is the fame his former partner Bryce found after leaving the channel; instead of an amateur vlogger living in his parents’ basement, Bryce is a successful actor in LA, although it’s clear that Andy’s not so much jealous as he is just resentful that Bryce left him behind. Bryce has invited Andy and his crew to his mansion in the Pocono Mountains for a weekend of filming and fun, but it soon becomes apparent that something isn’t quite right, and Bryce isn’t quite the old friend he claims to be and Mean Spirited is presented as the resulting footage of this disastrous weekend.

            Jeff Ryan and Will Madden are fantastic as Bryce and Andy respectively. Ryan imbues Bryce with a barely veiled contempt for Andy, but nonetheless veiled enough to present himself as merely saddened his old friend still resents him. We the audience figure out quickly that Bryce is something other than what he claims to be, but Ryan’s performance comes off more as smarmy out of touch Hollywood wunderkind instead of…whatever he currently is. And Madden plays Andy as an insecure jokester trying to conceal a genuine pain at being left behind with a veneer of aloofness and carefree goofiness. Their relationship forms the core of this film, and they’re quite good at it.

            Unfortunately, Mean Spirited doesn’t quite succeed as a found footage film. Far too often the film is too slickly shot to be the rough footage of a YouTube channel. Conversations that provide exposition are conveniently captured by cameras hidden from the characters or placed down while the characters discuss the situation. The editing between the various camera POVs is at times distracting, and there’s a scene at the end where there is a creative way of getting all the actors in frame that while I suspect was meant to pull off a traditional finale only made me wish the rest of the film had been shot traditionally. Don’t get me wrong; the story here is a good one, and I think this film would’ve benefitted greatly from a bit more of a production budget. Alas, the zippers in the costume are shown a bit too much due to the shortcomings of the found footage technique and in the end the film suffers for it.

            Mean Spirited is a fun film, and it’s certainly not the worst example of found footage, but it’s absolutely one of the best examples of an otherwise decent film dragged down by an inexpert execution of the technique. It felt personally to me like the exact opposite of Deadstream. Whereas Deadstream was a lackluster and exhausting film from a narrative point of view but was quite successful at executing the found footage technique, Mean Spirited is an interesting story with likeable characters just shown through an imperfect execution of the technique. If you don’t like found footage films, you won’t like this one. But if you’re willing to look past the shortcomings of its use of the technique, I think you’ll have a good time.