I’ve never been on the “dark web”. I wouldn’t even know how to get there. But if I’m to believe the latest trend in found footage movies, it is rich with archived web series where things have gone horribly wrong. This is how we start in Mind Body Spirit. After an unseen webuser performs a search and launches the content, we are down the rabbit hole of a yoga influencer trying to find her brand. Instead, she discovers something else.
Anya has recently inherited her grandmother’s house. Although she didn’t really know the woman, her mother kept her far from the matriarch, it seems like a good opportunity for the directionless Anya to get a fresh start in a new place. She spends everything she has to move to the new city and attempt to gain a following as an online yoga instructor. Things don’t get off to a great start, and when Anya finds a secret door leading to a secret pantry and eventually an even more secret attic, the course of her journey changes completely.
Anya finds a book handwritten by her grandmother, mostly in Russian with some translations, that appears to detail a spiritual exploration that pairs yoga-like body movements with herbal remedies and mystical rituals. The world of yoga influencers is rife with problems of cultural appropriation, and Anya is trying to avoid that and find a way to connect with something that is more true to her own ancestry. She assumes this book details customs researched and informed by her own cultural heritage and is excited to authentically share them with the world. But books found in ritualistic circles surrounded by cryptic symbols and candles in hidden spaces are never just good old homeopathic guides to holistic living, right horror fans??
While subtle at times, patient and attentive viewers will be rewarded. As Anya dives deeper into the book, the film gets increasingly tense. I found myself searching every dark corner and frame for a hidden face–waiting for the scares to appear. Many of the more unsettling moments happen in the shadows or are only caught in reflections which really builds apprehension for when the bigger reveals are made. And while it isn’t exactly a haunting, the action plays out similar to what one might expect from a haunted house story. Directors and co-writers Alex Henes and Matthew Merenda seem to know exactly where to build momentum and where to slow things down to craft the story.
Sarah J. Bartholomew competently carries the story as Anya in what is, essentially, a one woman show. We do get a few moments where she video calls her mom and a couple of visits from a high school acquaintance who is now a popular online fitness personality to more fully flesh out her world, but it’s mostly Bartholomew interacting with the camera. Another fun touch that helps things feel more authentic is the addition of YouTube-like commercials during Anya’s videos. They would seem completely real if they came up on any health and wellness video you might be watching online.
Critically speaking, the camera work stands out as an opportunity. As the story is being told from a one camera on a tripod POV, there are moments when we simply could not be getting the movements that we get. I imagine the unspoken explanation is that the sinister forces are also moving the camera, and at times that feels right, but at other times it really ends up hurting the emersion you feel when watching. That said, while neither the story nor the approach taken are particularly unique, the way in which they come together feels fresh and genuinely scary.