Written and Directed by Joseph Winter and Vanessa 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.
About the only thing first-time feature-length writers and directors Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter aren’t responsible for on Deadstream is the production design. For that, they found a supposedly real haunted house to shoot inside, and it shows throughout every room exploration and more minor details such as the most narrow staircase imaginable when descending into a secret area of the dilapidated building. There is a legitimate sense of dried emanating from this place, which is no easy feat considering that the first half mainly functions as a comedy.
Joseph Winter appears in the leading role as a disgraced YouTuber with a Pewdewpie-sized influence. In an unfortunate turn of events that I don’t necessarily buy but I’m willing to suspend belief over for the sake of the story, Shawn Ruddy’s culturally insensitive and cruel antics get him kicked off of YouTube with an abandoned viewer base disinterested in showing up to watch him stream on a Twitch knockoff site. Following a laughably sincere apology, Shawn comes up with a desperate ploy to regain some of his audience; an overnight stay inside a haunted house.
A key reason Deadstream works so well is that Joseph Winter portrays this Internet personality as such a pathetic and clueless individual that you can’t help but root for him. Even his earliest decisions, which involve chucking the house key into the surrounding forest and locking himself inside the haunted house, suggest a misplaced understanding of bravery. They also add purpose to the cliché of protagonists doing foolish things, somewhat recontextualizing genre conventions. Shawn has something to prove, and he’s going to prove it even if you consistently look like a hilarious idiot doing so (which is backed up by the numerous insulting comments he receives throughout the stream).
Of course, the house is haunted, as seen by Shawn cleverly setting up camera feeds all over the place, which subsequently help relieve the filmmaking of some typical found footage limitations. Whether ghosts or demons or monsters, the practical effects are consistently nasty and freaky, with the occasional moment of unapologetic bloodshed and spraying fluids that would make Sam Raimi proud. There is also a surprise when one of his subscribers (Melanie Stone) tracks down the house’s location and shows up, leading to some more twists and turns, all in good fun.
While Joseph Winter certainly has some restricted range as an actor with a few scenes here and there feeling amateurishly rough all around, it is also to be admired that Deadstream forces the character to gradually let up on his goofiness as the situation grows more dangerously terrifying. As a result of this increased intensity, survival instincts kick in with resourceful behavior as the film smoothly transitions into pure terror. The script is also smart enough to explore parallels between live streaming and supernatural motives. By the end, Shawn is apologizing for real as the stakes become more perilous. Consider me a subscriber of whatever this husband and wife duo decide to make next.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com