Written and directed by Vanessa Winter and Joseph Winter.
Starring Joseph Winter and Melanie Stone.
A disgraced internet personality attempts to win back his followers by livestreaming one night alone in a haunted house. But when he accidentally pisses off a vengeful spirit, his big comeback event becomes a real-time fight for his life.
Braced somewhere between Paranormal Activity and The Evil Dead lies the feature debut from Joseph and Vanessa Winter, which despite its superficial familiarity delivers an energetic take on the found footage (or rather, streamed footage) film.
Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter) is a popular livestreamer and social media personality whose brand is ruined overnight after a prank involving a homeless man goes horribly wrong. In an attempt to rehabilitate his image and win back followers, however, Shawn returns with a seemingly harmless new livestream stunt; spending one night alone in an abandoned, allegedly haunted house.
With cameras planted around the house and attached to his own body, Shawn vows to check out anything even remotely weird around the house. But to ensure he doesn’t chicken out, he’s also discarded his car’s spark plugs and locked himself inside the house with the key thrown away. And so, as it becomes clear that there is indeed a very legitimate paranormal presence in his midst, Shawn documents every second of his night of personal hell.
As with most films in the genre centered around livestreamers, Deadstream offers up a giddy parody of the growing virtual lifestyle/revenue stream, Shawn effectively a caricature of a hyperactive, attention-grabbing YouTuber who panders to a fanbase presumably consisting primarily of teenage boys. The obnoxious style of Shawn’s videos perfectly captures shock-jock streamers as they are, and periodically-displayed comments from his viewers are as hilarious as they feel authentic.
The Winters shrewdly make light fun of the various touchstones of livestream culture and social media fame; Shawn’s recent “cancellation” following a morally repugnant act, the inevitable apology video, and of course his general desire to monetise and commodify as much of his life as possible.
This ultimately even extends to the most horrifying night of his life once the haunted house hooey kicks off, all of it captured by an hilariously excessive number of cameras placed in basically every room of the house and streamed to his remaining fans. Shawn’s desperation to regain his economic position initially motivates his decision to put himself through this ordeal, yet without a working car or key to the house, he’s effectively confined there either way.
Found footage-adjacent horror is a tough nut to crack these days if only because the subgenre feels so thoroughly played out and wildly oversaturated, and yet in all of its genre-savviness, Deadstream manages to both playfully send it up and craft a genuinely anxious example of it.
Perhaps its crowning subversion lies in delivering a contemporary rehash of the typical horror movie scene where an expert arrives to exposit to the heroes about the supernatural entity they’re battling. Here, most of the experts are kids watching Shawn’s stream who send him YouTube videos presenting their own “research” on what’s happening.
Though nobody will be mistaking it for a big-budget stab at the genre, credit is due to the filmmakers and their production designer for crafting a compellingly grotty, makes-you-want-to-shower piece of work. Haunted houses are a dime-a-dozen in horror movies, but it’s clear that a mighty effort has been made to give the central locale a skin-crawlingly lived-in feel. It serves as a firm base for a host of bump-in-the-night thrills, from eerie sound effects to more outlandish, VFX-driven moments and, best of all, practically conceived Evil Dead-style gross-out shocks.
The Winters do just enough new with their set of parlour tricks to set themselves apart; Shawn using a tablet to view the various livestreams around the house is a novel conceit that results in a few neat surprises. On a broader narrative level there’s also a clever intermingling of livestreaming mechanics and supernatural lore, drawing an amusing parallel between social media followers and ghostly slaves.
Without giving too much away, things take an especially unhinged turn at the mid-point, after which the funhouse of creepy and gooey shit continually ramps up for an intense ride to the finish. Crucially, from beginning to end Deadstream manages to be both goofy fun and legitimately unnerving while wrapping up within a tidy 87 minutes.
As not only co-writer-director but also the film’s star, Joseph Winter gives a well-calibrated performance as Shawn; we know he’s an asshole, but he’s just likeable enough to root for as the survival situation grows increasingly dire. Though this is absolutely Winter’s show, Melanie Stone also provides solid support in a role that’s probably best left for audiences to discover for themselves.
Found footage fatigue be-damned, Deadstream proves there’s still room for both thrills and creativity in the oversaturated genre.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.