The Mean One Review: A Killer Seuss Satire That Can't Justify Its Own Existence

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I am in complete support of children's entertainment icons being repurposed into horrific killers. While it might be a bit cheap, I'm of the belief that these stories serve to de-establish the creative control that soul-sucking companies have on these characters. While not necessarily an act of artistic rebellion, parodies that twist the meanings of stories popularized by the likes of Disney or Warner Bros. should be welcomed with a lot more intrigue than the disdain they are often given by those stuck in the past.

At the same time, however, that doesn't mean that they are given a free pass from making a compelling and technically sound film, and "The Mean One" is certainly not that. Branding itself as an unauthorized parody of Hallmark Christmas movies and a certain Dr. Seuss Christmas classic, director Steven LaMorte makes this crabby scrooge into a beast-like killer donning a Santa suit. Twenty years after it is responsible for the death of her mother, a young woman named Cindy (Krystle Martin) moves back to her hometown of Newville to find that the creature is still lurking in the shadows. While her quest to find out what this Mean One truly is might sound like a festively entertaining romp, the film simply can't carve its own identity outside of what it is trying to parody.

Finding a way to keep Christmas from coming

There are two things that immediately stand out in "The Mean One." The first is its dark and dreary visual aesthetic, but not in a particularly good way. A lot of the scenes in the film look like they were heavily de-saturated in post-production. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is when the titular Mean One is first introduced – while the makeup effects, done by Ashleigh Thiel and Tatjana Bluchel, are impressive, the scene's extreme day-for-night colorization makes it hard to really take in how good they look.

The second obvious thing is the film's strange sound design. Granted, the digital screener I watched could be different from the one getting released on VOD or in theaters, but the audio throughout "The Mean One" sounds muted and fuzzy. It is extremely distracting and could even make or break the movie for you, depending on how familiar you are with similarly low-budget fare.

Other than these major flaws, nothing else about the movie on a technical level is particularly of note. The script, written by Flip and Finn Kolber, is nowhere near as punchy or smart as it thinks it is, with the most hearty response any joke will get being a light smirk. Every performance the film has to offer is either flat or trying too hard to be campy, and it certainly doesn't help that the characters only have one distinct trait that they hammer in with every appearance.

Oh, what fun

If there is one thing about "The Mean One" that will bring you any sort of cheer, Christmas-related or not, it's David Howard Thornton. This shouldn't be surprising, especially since his demented turn as Art the Clown in "Terrifier 2" became one of the year's most talked-about performances. Like that little rascal, The Mean One conveys all of his emotions through exaggerated movements and even more exaggerated kills. Every time this gross little guy comes on screen, you can't help but smile, even if some of his mannerisms are a little too reminiscent of Art.

You'll also wish that the actual kills and gore in "The Mean One" was more akin to "Terrifier 2." The film probably wouldn't have been better if, say, the Christmas-hating villain skinned a victim alive and rubbed salt over their wounds, but it would have been better if such theoretical carnage was actually used with practical effects. Instead, the film's not-so-gruesome murders are capped off with some pretty terrible and very distracting CGI blood effects. While it's understandable that this was an independently-produced film and that its special effects won't be akin to a studio-financed horror, was it hard to throw a little bit of real-fake blood at the camera?

One mean son of a...well, you know

"The Mean One" doesn't have a lot going for it outside of its parodic nature. Outside of Thornton's goofy performance and the fact that it's an unauthorized take on a still-copyrighted character, there's nothing of note to really talk about. The film is cheaply constructed in every way, from its barely amusing script to its poor color grading, and it is so unremarkable that, had it not been for its hook, you would have forgotten about it as soon as you heard about it.

The film purely exists for the novelty of seeing a Grinch-like creature kill people, which would be totally fine as a short film. However, even an hour and thirty minutes seem far too long to stretch out just one joke. On the bright side, "The Mean One" doesn't insult its audience and pretend that it's something that audiences take seriously. In fact, the film itself feels like it can't believe that it exists – in an age where clear examples of parody are stuck in release limbo thanks to the intimidation of mega-corporations, it's admirable that it's not only getting a VOD release but a small theatrical one as well. Unfortunately, if they were aiming for a holiday cult classic, it's not likely that it'll be remembered by anyone, even hardcore horror or grindhouse fans, outside of this holiday season.

/Film rating: 4 out of 10