This past weekend, a new Christmas movie received a limited theatrical release. The Mean One is a parody of the classic tale How The Grinch Stole Christmas, just…a little more violent and bloody. The trailer left movie fans searching the internet, asking, “Is this even a real movie?”
Yes, it is. The question is, is The Mean One a good one?
Parody films are a genre all their own, which means going into the theater with a different mindset than you normally might. So before we get into it, take a look at the trailer for The Mean One and—as I did—manage your expectations.
I went into The Mean One with a pretty vague idea what to expect. The script relies on references to Dr. Suess, the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas and—most importantly—the 2000 movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey.
Carrey’s influence as the Grinch is undeniable, and not just in The Mean One. Google “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and the first thing that comes up is the movie from 2000. Go to an amusement park for Christmas, and the theme park actor playing The Grinch is mimicking Jim Carrey. It really was a landmark film that changed the way audiences remembered the story.
The Mean One as a film is no different, honoring Carrey’s performance with everything from the appearance of monster to his physicality. While the Grinch never went on a murdering spree in Whoville, The Mean One still incorporates a lot of his mannerisms: crawling across the floor on his fingertips, the slow finger wag, the iconic and extremely creepy smile. While all of it screams ‘Carrey,’ David Howard Thorton still shines through his makeup and costume. He brings the same unhinged energy to The Mean One as he does to Art the Clown in Terrifier 2.
Credit where credit is due, this movie is much funnier than I was prepared for. The lower hanging fruit is the unavoidable how-do-we-prevent-getting-sued-for-copyright jokes—but even most of those are extremely well done. The Mean One has a narrator who speaks in verse just like any other version of the story, though with an undeniably modern edge in his word choice. Even the way the script chooses to avoid saying “Grinch” or “Dr. Suess” had me laughing out loud.
The Mean One has plenty of original jokes as well. Officer Burke is the source of endless laughs with his hapless flirting and Jewish wisdom. That’s something that can be tough to navigate in any movie, but The Mean One does an incredible job of incorporating the humor without relying on harmful stereotypes.
And then there’s the comedy that can only come from a low-budget horror film like this one. I know I probably wasn’t supposed to be laughing at the extras who were playing billiards without taking a single shot in five minutes of screen time—but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny.
Speaking of low-budget, you have to be prepared for bad special effects. They’re essentially a staple of the genre, offering a kind of comedy all their own. That being said, the effects in The Mean One can be borderline painful to watch.
CGI has come a long way over the years, but watching The Mean One, you wouldn’t know it. The blood splatter effects are reminiscent of a 90’s video game, and even that’s a compliment. It’s bad enough that it feels purposeful, which I can respect as a creative choice. It says, “Don’t focus on this. It’s not what the story’s about.” Still, I prefer bad practical effects to bad digital effects, every time.
On top of that, none of the kills are especially creative or Christmas-y. (Granted, I watched this on the heels of Violent Night, so my standards for Christmas-kills are currently pretty high.) Besides a few guns striped like candy canes and some ornamental bauble-bombs, it’s really just some shooting, stabbing, and clawing. I personally was looking forward to that, but it just wasn’t on the director’s Christmas list.
Hold onto your socks, because I’m about to do more creative interpretation than your high school English teacher.
One thing I was determined to take away from this movie was meaning, something beyond “it’s fun to make silly horror movies.” Just because a film is low-budget doesn’t mean it has nothing to say. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I walked out of The Mean One with vague feelings about futility and nostalgia, but it took time to put it into words.
At one point of the film, Officer Burke says to Cindy, “I bet there’s a parallel universe out there where this story was more fun.” Cindy laughs and replies, “I wish we lived in that one.” It’s a cute nod to the original story’s warm, fuzzy feelings and happy endings—but it also reminded me of something else.
Spend enough time on the internet, and you’ll inevitably hear the words, “This is the worst timeline.” When something goes wrong, we defer to the idea there are other worlds out there where things went right. We just so happen to be living in the one where things are wacky and weird and wrong.
But Burke’s response to Cindy is the clincher: “I still have high hopes for a happy ending in this one.”
So yes, maybe we live in the worst timeline. It’s depressing that more than one generation was raised on happy endings only to reach adulthood and feel like there are none; that’s certainly one reason to take an innocent childhood story and turn it into a gritty horror film. Still, what I’m choosing to take away from the film is that, even if we live in the darkest timeline, life still has its bright spots. They might just look a little different than we expected.
And also, it’s really fun to make silly horror movies.
The Mean One is showing in select theaters now.