Being a big fan of Found Footage horror, easily one of my most anticipated films going into this year’s Fantasia was the husband and wife director duo of Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s comedic take on the genre Deadstream. The film, which was also written by the pair, stars Joseph as Shawn Ruddy, a stunt influencer that runs a channel called “Wrath of Shawn”, where the self proclaimed “World’s biggest wuss” faces his fears one video challenge at a time. The film picks up six months after Shawn was canceled after a stunt gone wrong and he has since turned in his requisite apology video. Deadstream chronicles Shawn’s comeback LivVid Halloween livestream where he is going to spend the night in the local abandoned haunted house aptly nicknamed “Death Manor”. Given the 90 minute film transpires in real time, the night goes about as well as you’d expect for the narcissistic influencer.
Considering the low financial bar for entry, you have a lot of films in the found footage genre, all vying to replicate the success of The Blair Witch Project, which famously became the most profitable film of all time at $248 million on a $200,000 budget. Deadstream smartly sets itself apart and takes the horror comedy route, even referencing Blair Witch in its hilarious and comprehensive update/takedown/exploration into the genre. The film also offers up its toxic protagonist to the horror gods, while still infusing the character with some pathos to keep us vested. We just know it’s not going to end well for Shawn, or will it? That uncertainty is just fine with me as the protagonist also functions as a perfectly crafted statement on the current trends of social media that reward its creators for their bad behavior with clout and financial success.
Story-wise the film gets its hook early on with its creepypasta-esque story of the lonely Mildred who lived in “Death Manor” alone and hung herself after the death of her suitor. It’s a mythology the film cleverly expands slowly but surely as we are taken through the livestream, and Shawn discovers clues throughout the house. Also, keep in mind even though the film is hilarious, it still has some genuinely effective scares that because of the humor can catch you off guard. Its that balance between Joseph’s portrayal of the annoyingly upbeat Shawn that feels authentic and his non-stop banter that only makes it that much more satisfying when the house begins to unleash its unholy curse in a way that definitely invokes Raimi’s love of torturing Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2.
Deadstream is horrifically hilarious, while also being a scathing take on our current social media landscape. Its a rare film that warrants a second or third viewing given, we’re not just getting Shawn’s take and trying to take that in, but the comments on his livestream as well, which is the definition of what happens when you ask the internet for help. Sure there are some folks that genuinely add to the conversation, but the signal to noise ratio is fun to see as they escalate Shawn’s descent into madness. Joseph Winter is too authentic at times, so that only helps fuel the madness on screen as he is forced to keep his audience engaged while trying to stay alive, all while keeping the language PG for community guidelines. Its utterly brilliant and a horror crowd pleaser will easily be this Halloween’s go to party film.