Deadstream, co-directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s (V/H/S/ 99) feature-length debut found footage horror-comedy film about a disgraced influencer trying to make a comeback by exploring a haunted house is an excellent parody of content creators and the specific breed that squawks about being kicked off the internet while selling mass-produced merch and hawking sponsored content to an ever-adoring fanbase.
Joseph Winter, the star actor, co-writer, and co-director of this movie, plays the main character Shawn Ruddy with the perfect energy, coming across as self-absorbed, ignorant, and grating in the same way many of these content creators can be, harkening not only to many ‘paranormal investigator’ YouTubers with their out-of-proportion reactions, constant sponsorship mentions, and terrible in character acting but also reminding me of the slew of ‘paranormal investigator’ shows on tv such as Ghost Adventures, which, well lacking the sponsorships, have their fair share of terrible acting and out of proportion reactions, with an extra dose of fake paranormal activity. As the seemingly very real activity begins to ramp up for Shawn, a new character, Chrissy (Melanie Stone), enters the house, a fan who tracked Shawn’s location down but is allowed to stay at the whim of the viewers despite Shawn’s apprehensions about it.
Now is where the fun begins as Chrissy begins to act strangely before attacking Shawn, seemingly trying to tear out his throat with her teeth, to which he impales her neck with a piece of wood, seemingly killing her. This gives us our first view of another thing the movie does excellently, managing to take the tone from a romp where you’re happy to laugh at the jumpy, superstitious Shawn to be able to feel the same dread he does alongside him. as he tries to, in his own words, “squeeze past” the hanging ghost of Mildred, the original owner and first spirit of the house, it becomes a tense moment of true fear, only to swap right back to that comedy effortlessly once more with a humorous moment of Mildred grabbing Shawn like a spider and subsequently getting pushed down the stairs. The movie continues to waffle between these feelings as Shawn tries to escape the house, only to grab the wrong key from the grate he shoved his in prior, but finding it opens a box he found in the house, revealing that Chrissy was really Mildred (not much of a surprise, but even the chatters in the movie point this out so it feels obvious with intention), and Shawn not long after discovering a Latin chant he was made to do earlier forfeit his soul to Mildred.
Another excellent part of this movie is the practical effects, with the various ghosts and ghouls that appear being excellently designed and put together, as well as the injuries throughout the film being that excellent cherry-red blood that gives it that hokey yet visceral feeling. In fact, the whole movie balances visceral and hokey with its effects similar to how it balances horror and comedy at different points.
While the movie does a good job of balancing the comedy and the horror, it also makes sure we know Shawn is kind of a piece of shit. We do learn that Shawn paid a homeless man to fight him, putting him in the hospital, and despite his insistence that he did nothing wrong, it’s a sentiment that doesn’t ring true, especially when Shawn’s final solution to save himself is to make the same deal with the devil that Mildred supposedly made, rather than any other possible solution, which only leads to him being accosted by the various ghosts of the house, all with excellent use of practical effects and costuming.
The ending had a bit of unnecessary gross-out humour, but generally was pretty great as Shawn’s first attempt at the ritual fails, and Mildred attacks him once more. As he’s pursued through the house he realizes he needs to sacrifice a part of his flesh, and succeeds at the ritual, and speaks to his viewers thinking he’s finally escaped, only for all the ghosts to appear once more to take Shawn.
Deadstream exists in an interesting time in the horror landscape, where much of the interest is moving towards a resurgence of found footage, specifically the more insular, personal style that many influencers operate in. While these other movies have been coming out for the past few years they’ve really gained in popularity now, with titles like Spree (2020) and We’re All Going To The World’s Fair (2021) either releasing to a great deal of interest or coming into it. It feels as though the people who grew up on the internet, experiencing the unique stories that have been told on it for over a decade now, are finally able to put their work into the world with all of the influences that brings. Watching this new era of internet horror harkens back to some of my favourite things youtube has ever brought to my attention, such as Marble Hornets (2009 – 2014), Local58 (2015 – present), and Petscop (2017 – 2019). It feels like this trend is capturing something movies like Unfriended (2014) and FearDotCom (2002) failed to capture in their cracks at internet-based horror, and that makes me really, really excited for what the future holds.
Overall, the movie is really well put together with great writing both in the comedy and horror departments, the effects and costumes, and the set design. Even if there were jokes towards the end that fell flat to me I think it’s a movie that’s definitely worth the watch, and one that deserves acknowledgement as one of the few great films that call themselves comedy-horror, a genre that often gets bogged down with films that try too hard on the horror or comedy aspects, but Deadstream is one of those rare treats that figured out a formula of balance.
Deadstream premieres on Shudder on October 6th