Deadstream takes a while to get going, but the Winters ultimately deliver a smart, playful found footage movie that proves stylistically a cut above.
Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s Deadstream gets off to a rough start, playing like an introduction to one of the world’s most annoying YouTube streamers in Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winters). Ruddy is back to streaming after a particularly insensitive stunt left his channel demonetized and caused all of his sponsors to pull out, the kind of controversy that guys like the Paul brothers and Pewdiepie continually bounce back from. But with new sponsors at his side, he’s now promising The Wrath of Shawn’s most cinematic and possibly most dangerous stunt yet: one night in the most haunted house he can find, all livestreamed of course. This setup immediately calls to mind the similar premise of Jung Bum-shik’s terrifying Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, only with a single irritating man in place of a whole cast of characters. By the time Shawn is in the house, Deadstream seems doomed to fail, a manic, unfunny satire of an easy, if deserving, target. And while spending time with this character never gets easier per se, the Winters’ film actually starts surprising soon after the promised ghosts show up.
As it turns out, Deadstream has less in common with Gonjiam than with The Evil Dead, sharing with Raimi’s film a creature and gore design ethos, along with a specifically pitched comedic tone — a ghoul smashing Shawn’s head into the ground while shouting “smash that like button” shouldn’t work, but full-throated, creative commitment to the bit sells it. When the film is in full swing, it’s a tour through very effective jump scares, gross-out effects work and spooky atmosphere. If Shawn never becomes less irritating, Deadstream at least gets funnier as it gets scarier, either through the population of Shawn’s chatroom and his deranged commitment to engaging with the comments no matter what’s happening or through the ghosts’ commitment to psychic damage in the way of barbed, specific insults (something again borrowed from The Evil Dead). The film never approaches a particularly deep, engaging satire of the live-streaming model, but it’s at least an accurate piss-taking, using loud-mouth, well-informed demons to skewer YouTuber apology videos. More than existing only on the level of surface scares and humor, the Winters borrow from Raimi a commitment to exciting filmmaking. Shawn promises his viewers the “most cinematic experience in live streaming,” which plays out through him attaching cameras to everything and letting his stream bounce between them. If he puts together a makeshift spear, he’ll attach a camera to it, all the better if something takes the weapon from him. Hell, even the monsters chasing Shawn might have a camera attached at an opportune moment. For Shawn, it’s all part and parcel of a commitment to making an interesting stream even in extreme danger. For the Winters, it’s a smart, playful way to ensure their found footage movie is stylistically a cut well above the standard.
You can stream Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s Deadstream on Shudder beginning on October 6.
Originally published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 2.