There’s a Grinch in All of Us. ‘The Mean One’ Proves It
If you ever found yourself aching for a horror retelling of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (this one specifically, which is arguably already partially in the horror spectrum — although this version) then you have something to look forward to this holiday season. Steven LaMorte directs a script from Finn & Flip Kobler, the latter of the two siblings known mostly for penning direct-to-video Disney sequels (Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure, Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World) and the season 2 Deep Space Nine episode Profit and Loss, which sees Armin Shimerman’s Quark as a repurposed Rick Blaine in his own galactic version of Casablanca’s Rick’s Café Américaine.
The ground that The Mean One covers is pretty much a revisit of plot points from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, cherry-picked from both the 1966 Chuck Jones special and the 2000 version, which has seemingly been burned into the brains of those oh-so impressionable minds of the time. Given the outward nightmare the ’00 film exudes, The Mean One decides to double down on the look of the creature as we never should have physically realized him, with a grotesque yet over-realistic countenance placing the character somewhere within bipedal creature of myth and misunderstood (at least not by us) storybook critter.
The only way the bulk of The Mean One can really work is if the poignant seasonal reflection of humanity put forth by its animated predecessor is seen as an adjacent reality. And even then the effect the horror version of this story is nigh insignificant, the recycled meat of which this story is re-told becoming as useful as a footnote. By the end of the movie we’ve already arrived at the same conclusion the animated and live-action features and their characters have on a larger emotional scale. It’s not my explicit opinion that budget has anything to do with it here, although this horror retelling makes some incredibly dubious decisions with its dollars that even shoestring budget filmmakers would cringe at the thought of. The kills in the film are set up with an obvious sense of care and forethought, but the follow-through it ends up delivering to its audience is rife with disconnected cutaway shots, and perhaps a few buckets worth of computer generated blood (which seems like more of an expenditure than using any old red liquid in-camera).
Fans of the All Hallows Eve and Terrifier films do have a performance by David Howard Thornton to look forward to in this, but as the film bears on it becomes challenging to spot anything the performer does that actually gets a proper moment. His performance as Art in the Terrifier movies alone predicate that he be showcased as the physical comedic force he undoubtedly is, yet any attempt to provide some much-needed physical comedy in The Mean One is betrayed by its directing, cinematography, editing, or all of the above. Given that the titular Mean One in the movie is a silent character, there seems to be no entry point for the audience to figure him out as the obvious dramatic center of the story save for what the characters tell us about him. As a result a myriad of conflicting tones create a dizzying effect of indifference that has but one solace in the last foothold of the mountain, which happens to be the approach and feeling of cheesy Hallmark movies, of which the human drama aspect is the most reminiscent of, through a horrid way-too-blue filter that threatens each character with post-production frost-bite. This part of the movie fails to make light of its own situations, as it serves its own drama in a much too overserious manner.
At the head of all of what LaMorte, Kobler & Kobler have at their disposal for something that should have in all rights written itself are a handful of Jewish jokes. I don’t even have to say they’re in poor taste to call attention to the, at-best, passive antisemitic inclusion of any such “humor” in a Christmas-oriented horror slasher. It’s an act that always comes from a hateful place and never not an unconscionable practice using comedy as a mask. The fact that these “jokes” come at the very head of the film’s first act is certainly an indicator, although no other humor is attempted at the expense of any other marginalized group.
Given all the events that The Mean One has to offer it does try some other new things within the runtime but it’s hard to say if any of this was at all worth it. Throughout the feature it rests on the framework of at least one iteration that has stood the test of time, but wants to feel like introducing a skew towards horror and a warped sense of “healthy tongue-in-cheek” humor will make this approach stand out from what we’re familiar in the tale of the misunderstood Grinch. In the end it instead imbues a feeling of a misbegotten failure. In trying to convince us of the Mean One’s inherent treachery and hatred of the holidays our own sense of humbug grows three sizes too large.