Sunday, May 05, 2024

Mind Body Spirit: Mindfulness Horror

New Agey influencers might see an old manuscript and think they found the next Celestine Prophecy. Yet, those who are a little older will be leery of opening their minds and spirits, for fear of what might enter. You can disregard old folk all you want, but, by definition, they are survivors. In contrast, Anya is clearly out of her depth and in great peril right from the start of Alex Henes & Matthew Merenda’s Mind Body Spirit, which releases this Tuesday on VOD.

Having inherited a creepy old house from the grandmother she never met, Anya moved in, hoping she will finally have the space to find herself, or whatever junky New Age term she might prefer. Anya aspires to be mindfulness-yoga influencer, but she lacks the confidence to post her videos. Fortunately, she keeps her camera rolling when she discovers the secret stairway to her grandmother’s creepy storeroom of what look like witchcraft supplies (otherwise, we wouldn’t have a movie to watch).

Her old Siberian babushka also left Anya a journal, which includes a ritual the would-be yoga guru assumes will recenter the spirit in the body. Of course, any horror fan immediately suspects [currently] what this ritual is actually intended for. Anya presumes her mother severed all connections with her grandmother, because of some prejudice against her supposedly heightened spirituality, but we know better—especially since we can sometimes see the old spectral crone skulking in the background, unnoticed by Anya.

Probably the best way to watch
Mind Body Spirit would be with a mindfulness lifestyle follower, who has no idea what is coming. Henes and Merenda create a good deal of tension and the details surrounding the Baba Yagi-like grandma are definitely creepy. The Russian cultural context greatly distinguishes Mind Body Spirit from other similarly occult films. However, Henes and Merenda often break the rules of the found footage subgenre, frequently having the camera move seemingly of its own accord, even into different rooms. It is not Grandma moving the camera either. I don’t want to be the found footage cop, but if you are going to do something, do it the right way.

Indeed, it is clear Henes and Merenda are trying to replicate the online viewing experience, because they periodically replicate the “buffering” effect and interrupt the action with three satirical commercials—two of which featuring “Kenzi Fit,” Anya’s vastly more successful frienemy influencer.

Frankly, those phony commercials are so perfectly on-the-money believable, they will probably anger a lot of turmeric-tea drinking New Age posers. There is a lot of sly commentary shoehorned into an impressively staged horror movie. Despite massively “cheating” in the execution of their found footage concept, the co-directors cleverly stage-managed the claustrophobic location, adroitly ushering the limited cast into and out of the camera’s field of vision, during several nifty tracking shots.

Sarah J. Bartholomew and Madi Bready both display the extraordinary flexibility of longtime yoga practitioners. As Anya, Bartholomew also has some terrific freakouts. Clearly, this was a physically demanding role, to an unusual degree for a horror movie, but she meets the challenge.

Even though
Mind Body Spirit is not even a full ninety minutes, the first act could have been tighter. Nevertheless, it is pretty cool to see how much Henes and Merenda could pull off with limited resources. Recommended for fans of occult horror and New Age skeptics, Mind Body Spirit releases this Tuesday (5/7) on VOD.