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Mind Body Spirit (2023) Review

Mind Body Spirit may be the first horror film centered around yoga. No, not yogurt, The Stuff did that decades ago, but yoga. Yes, there was Yoga Hosers, but that was about two yoga practitioners, not about yoga itself. And it was a comedy, which this very definitely isn’t.

Anya (Sarah J. Bartholomew, Tales from Middleton High, Sweet Taste of Souls) was left a house in California by the grandmother she barely knew existed, let alone met. If she’d read a few of my reviews, she would have known what a bad idea that was, though after seeing a video call between her and her mother Lenka (Anna Knigge) I can’t blame her for moving cross-country to become a yoga and fitness influencer, something her childhood friend Kenzi (Madi Bready, Occupy, Texas, Forsaken) has been very successful at.

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It’s while making her first video, she discovers a door hidden behind a bookcase. It leads to an attic where she finds what looks like a strange altar and what she takes to be a journal kept by her grandmother Verasha (Kristi Noory, Maestro, Bingo Queen). Interestingly enough, it contains what appears to be a yoga centric program for cleansing and healing one’s mind, body and spirit, the perfect thing to start her channel with.

First time feature directors Alex Henes and Matthew Merenda co-wrote the script based on an idea by one of Mind Body Spirit’s effects crew, Matthew Merenda. What they’ve created is a found footage horror film framed through the lens of influencer culture, with the effects the rituals in the book have on Anya serving as an extreme version of the way living an illusory life affects successful YouTube and Instagram personalities.

I’m over influencers and films about them in a big way, in no small part due to the real life equivalents of Kenzi with their attitude that convincingly faking being authentic is much more important than actually being genuine. Thankfully, Anya is one of the few cinematic influencers who isn’t an obnoxious asshole, and she actually has an awkward charm that makes her relatable rather than hateable.

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The film’s horror elements start out quite subtly, with things like a reflection of a person we can’t see walking across a polished floor. It gradually expands to more obvious activities, as well as changes in Anya. Changes that, although obviously not for the better, are hard not to cheer when she stands up to Kenzi’s snarky attitude and comments about Anya “getting lifestyle tips from The Book of the Dead.” The fact that she may be closer to the truth than she thinks is another matter.

This brings me to one of my few problems with Mind Body Spirit. It’s a found footage film and everything we see, the camera has seen as well. Which means Anya should have seen it when she was reviewing and editing the raw footage into YouTube videos. Some of it is impossible to miss, like the camera revolving on its own while she’s doing a meditation. Or a scene where the camera goes floating through the house while she sleeps.

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Helping the film get past this and a couple of other plot wrinkles is an excellent performance by Sarah J. Bartholomew. She’s on camera in almost every scene in the film, most of the time alone, talking to the camera. She sells Anya’s reaction to what’s going on and the changes in her character and makes it believable. Cinematographer Blake Horn (Better Half, I Dreamed of Johnstown) is somewhat limited by the found footage format, but still delivers plenty of eerie visuals to back her performance up.

Overall, Mind Body Spirit is a quietly effective film, the kind that is more likely to make you look over your shoulder than jump out of your seat. If that, and a character driven plot with just enough blood to make an impact, appeal to you, this should be on your list of films to see.

Welcome Villain Films will release Mind Body Spirit to Digital Platforms on May 10th.

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