‘Deadstream’ Review: Found Footage Meets Influencer Satire
By Daniel Rester
A much-anticipated horror film that played well at festivals this year, Deadstream arrives this week on Shudder. It comes from husband and wife team Joseph and Vanessa Winter, who wrote the script and made their feature directorial debuts with Deadstream as well. They also acted as producers and editors on the film while Joseph stars in the lead role too, so it’s a true passion project from the duo.
Joseph stars as Shawn Ruddy, a disgraced social media star who has a channel called “Wrath of Shawn” where he does stupid stunts. In an effort to regain his reputation (and more importantly to him, monetization and followers), Shawn decides to do a live-stream inside of a supposedly haunted house in Utah called Death Manor. Armed with his flashlights and cameras, he navigates the dilapidated place and vows to stay inside no matter what happens. And then the creepy stuff begins….
Deadstream is a clever and scary DIY film that breathes some life into the found footage subgenre. People entering haunted places with modern camera rigs and gadgets is nothing new, but what is fresh here is the approach with the central character and the tone. Shawn isn’t the typical main guy who pretends to be an expert in the supernatural or wants to discover secrets in the house. Instead he is an idiot and scaredy cat who is only doing these things for the money and viewership. His character is used to satirize social media influencers with inflated egos and annoying personalities, even showing Shawn arguing with his followers as live comments come in.
While this poking fun at online personalities and genre cliches can be hilarious, Deadstream offers up some genuine thrills too. Some of these jolts come in a quietly spooky style early on, but they get crazier and crazier as the film moves along until it all feels like it is in the world of The Evil Dead (1981). Expect some wacky ghouls and splatter moments that are up close and personal, including a primo head explosion. The creature makeup here is cheap but still good enough to keep one engaged; a few beings with rubber masks don’t work though.
The Winters deliver a number of inventive camera and editing tricks as Shawn tries to make it through the night. The layout of the dusty house (there’s great production design here) is well established as the character places action cameras in different rooms. He also places a camera on a creature at one point to keep track of where it is, and in another scene he tapes a camera to a jerky stick so that he can hold it outside of a window for a view.
The filmmaking duo also find an amusing way to incorporate music into Deadstream. So often it annoys me when music scores randomly play behind found footage films as it takes away the authentic reality the subgenre goes for. Here, however, Shawn brings a tape with pre-recorded music in order to play it at times to bring atmosphere to his live stream. It’s a funny choice and provides some solid synth tunes too. Non-diegetic sound stingers do accompany some of the “gotcha!” moments in Deadstream, but they aren’t too aggravating or distracting.
Joseph Winter does a fine job of making Shawn believably dumb and selfish. He is consistent as the character throughout, though his screams do feel like acting at times. The writing around the character assists Joseph though as it is entertaining seeing Shawn making fun of a ghost’s poetry, using a “Stupid Things To Do” wheel spinner, etc. This character is obnoxious but also the kind of trainwreck you can’t look away from. Shawn, and the skewering of influencers like him, is what separates Deadstream from other found footage flicks.
Deadstream is a wild, well-made little horror gem with plenty of laughs and frights. At only 87 minutes, it moves quickly too. It’s the kind of film that would play perfectly at a Halloween party.
My Grade: 8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B+)
Running Time: 1h 27min
Deadstream premiered on Shudder on October 6, 2022.