Mind Body Spirit is a smart and spooky screen-life chiller

Mind Body Spirit is a smart and spooky screen-life chiller

Fitness influencers can be good or bad, but we can all agree that when they’re bad, they’re the WORST. Be it their tendency toward woo-woo, their obsession with whatever new diet trend they heard about on a podcast, or their assertion that they don’t actually need any sort of formal education to give you nutritional pointers, they can often be insufferable. Are you feeling off today because Mercury is in retrograde, or is it because you got shitfaced during “Retrograde Night” at Club Mercury? Hard to tell when you’re making money hand over foot by selling gems to people looking for a quick fix — folks who are often just as toxic, buying it all and trying to pay it forward (sell it) to others. Debt, like misery, loves company. 

Mind Body Spirit, a chilling screen-life horror flick, takes aim at the above referenced targets, skewering the culture of fitness while also delivering one of the better found footagers of recent memory. By mixing the daily life of a wannabe fitness influencer with the folksy, familial horror stylings of something like Hereditary, writers/directors Alex Henes and Matthew Merenda (story by Topher Hendricks) have taken familiar horror material and turned it on its ear, resulting in a tightly contained, effective spooker. 

Sarah J. Bartholomew plays Anya, an aspiring fitness influencer who has recently inherited a house from Verasha, her estranged grandmother. It’s evident that she’s had some troubles in her recent past and is using her new home as an opportunity to start over, or in influencer parlance, rebrand. Her mother is not pleased with Anya’s new life, as evidenced by the tension between the two during a handful of video calls, but she does her best to be supportive nonetheless. One gets the sense that this tension is generational: Mom doesn’t speak very highly of not-so-dearly departed Verasha. 

The film’s opening shot provides the framing device: we the viewers have entered a dark web bank of red rooms, one of which contains the now-edited video diary chronicling Anya’s final days. For those not in the know, red rooms are essentially the digital versions of snuff films. As such, the entirety of the film takes place on a computer screen, much like Unfriended or Host. With this framing in play, the filmmakers have cleverly cut ads into the meat of the film. No, not real ads, but promotional videos for other fitness influencers. These expertly executed segments add a level of mean-spirited humor to the satire. They are spot on recreations of the real thing. 

As Anya explores her new home, she finds cryptic messages and items left behind by Verasha. And as she works to build her online presence, it becomes increasingly clear that she’s not alone in the house, and that whatever she shares her space with has very bad intentions. 

Mind Body Spirit is able to transcend a few of the limitations of found footage by bending the “rules” a bit. Namely, there are segments where, unbeknownst to Anya, the footage itself is affected by the supernatural presence, which regularly takes control of the camera and in some instances is able to alter the footage itself. In terms of “committing to the bit” this is a risky line to walk, especially since many found footage purists tend to disconnect if the framing device is broken, but in this instance it works brilliantly, allowing for the concept to hold strong while also creating a new mechanism through which spooky imagery can come through. One repeated visual motif involves the camera doing a multiple, slow 360-degree rotations, the first to train your eye, with subsequent rotations employed to subvert the established visual geography with the addition of supernaturalia. It’s reminiscent of Lake Mungo in the way it evokes the chills of a jump scare without actually going through the tiresome mechanics of a jump scare. 

As such, the film creates a consistent feeling of dread that never registers as cheap or gimmicky. So much for yoga being relaxing…

Mind Body Spirit is currently available on digital platforms. 

Directed by Alex Henes, Matthew Merenda

Written by Alex Henes, Matthew Merenda, Topher Hendricks

Starring Sarah J. Bartholomew, Madi Bready, Anna Knigge, Kristi Noory

Not rated, 85 minutes