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“Mind Body Spirit” is a brilliant example of accomplishing a great deal with very little, thanks to creativity and a dazzling lead performance.

Mind Body Spirit

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The film opens with a slow pan of a laptop sitting on a kitchen table and an unseen user accessing the deep web.

The latest in a string of shady searches, the user types in “mind body spirit” and clicks on the video that comes up — cleverly establishing two important things quickly and effectively: first, what we’re about to watch is found footage, and second, the ensuing events promise to be disturbing enough to land the footage on the dark web for the morbidly curious.

Immediately, we meet our central protagonist, Anya (Sarah J. Bartholomew), whose singular presence will dominate much of the film.

Anya is a quirky aspiring yoga influencer. She’s recording videos for her fitness channel — aptly titled “Mind Body Spirit” — in the home she recently inherited from her deceased grandmother, Verasha (Kristi Noory). Even though Anya had no relationship with her grandmother (due to Verasha’s estranged relationship with Anya’s mother), she interprets the inheritance as a sign to change her life, starting fresh in a new place and a new passion to pursue her dreams with zeal.

The film begins unassumingly as we watch Anya record videos for her channel, walking viewers through basic yoga poses. But she’s charmingly awkward and engaging, and watching her try desperately to find herself while sitting in front of a camera is strangely captivating.

Much of this is due to how phenomenal Bartholomew is in this role. She commands the screen from the first frame, drawing viewers in with her warmth and vulnerability or keeping them glued to the screen as they watch her spiral and transform as the film progresses.

Bartholomew carries the weight of the film on her shoulders, and she does so with tremendous aplomb.

Mind Body Spirit

Anya is far from your typical ultra-polished and unapproachable fitness influencer. She’s the polar opposite of her successful and self-assured childhood friend, Kenzi (Madi Bready), whose own yoga channel has become a booming business.

Kenzi, who occasionally appears to boost ratings on Anya’s channel, is poised and packaged. She’s everything Anya hopes she can become. However, Anya struggles to reconcile her genuine passion and spiritual connection to her practice with Kenzi’s highly manufactured and marketed image.

This clash of ideologies will become quite significant later, leading to one of the juiciest and jaw-dropping scenes in the film.

While it takes time for the inevitable chaos to ensue, the seeds are planted very early on. After Anya’s first recording, she discovers a mysterious door hidden behind a bookcase. It leads to a hidden pantry full of strange potions and artifacts. Hidden behind an off-putting tapestry are stairs leading to an attic where Anya discovers an old book dedicated to her by her grandmother.

The book details a traditional thirty-day Slavic ritual called “The Joining” that purports to connect the soul to the body.

Anya sees this as a message from beyond for her grandmother, the thing she’s been looking for to reconnect with her heritage and discover her authentic self. However, horror fans will immediately sense how bad of an idea it is to start reading aloud from a handwritten book — mysteriously found in an attic, written in a dead language, eerily resembling the Necronomicon.

Of course, if we weren’t already suspecting the worst, we certainly are after Anya’s conversation with her mother, where the latter tries in vain to convince her daughter how little her grandmother can be trusted.

Before Anya can begin the first ritual, Verasha is already making her presence known, taking control of Anya’s camera and showing up in darkened corners of the home. It’s incredibly unnerving, keeping us on edge every time the camera pans the room and lingers on darkness as we anxiously expect glimpses of her ominous presence.

In this way, it reminds me greatly of what made Paranormal Activity so effectively terrifying.

Writer/director duo Alex Henes and Matthew Merenda cleverly sidestep typical found footage limitations.

By allowing Verasha’s spirit to manipulate the camera, we are given bewitching 360 views of the home and allowed to peer into spaces unseen by Anya.

Early on, it’s established that Anya records multiple episodes before uploading any content to her channel. This is a clever way to give the audience access to information withheld from Anya and make her continued recording seem plausible. It also makes for some fantastically creepy scenes, which are subtle but impactful, rewarding viewers who pay careful attention.

What begins as simple stretching exercises soon leads to more bizarre and uncomfortable-to-watch rituals, which take a drastic toll on Anya’s physical and mental well-being.

As Anya begins her downward spiral, Bartholomew keeps us dangling helplessly on the hook, entranced by her magnetic presence and her captivating ability to traverse the emotional spectrum and make us experience every agonizing moment of her transition from loveable and infectiously enthusiastic seeker to a damaged soul consumed by darkness.

We root for her, even as we brace ourselves for the horror we know is coming.

Mind Body Spirit is a deliciously spooky and innovative found-footage film that doubles as a social horror for those seeking more thought-provoking fare.

The film thoughtfully discusses influencer culture and, more sharply, the often problematic White Western appropriation of another culture’s spiritual practices. It explores the dangers of being so desperate for identity and community that you open yourself up to manipulation and exploitation, as illustrated by some of the ads for spiritual products and services intercut throughout the film.

With a single location and a single actor for most of the film, Mind Body Spirit does a great deal with very little.

The slow build from a haunting presence to an increasingly more invasive threat keeps you laser-focused on every frame — with breathless anticipation, wondering what Verasha has up her spiritual sleeve next and what nastiness awaits Anya as she makes her way through the ritual.

Ultimately, Mind Body Spirit is a praiseworthy debut from Henes and Merenda and a clever twist on found footage/screen life horror that deserves an audience.

Between Bartholomew’s mesmerizing performance and the atmospheric terror that sent shivers down my spine, Mind Body Spirit kept me on the edge of my seat.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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