What happens when the horror-comedy subgenre meets the found footage style involving ghosts? An amusing cross between hilarity and effective scares that will leave viewers hollering in laughter. Having made its Canadian premiere at Fantasia Festival, get ready for a streamer who isn’t starting up his livestream; he’s booting up his “Deadstream”.
Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter) is a disgraced YouTube star who, 6 months ago, lost sponsors, fans and a whole lot of overall respect after a shameful online stunt. Now, he’s trying to win back the love of his viewers and the financial aid of his sponsors by going to spend a night in what is supposed to be the most haunted house in all of the United States, in addition to livestreaming it. He makes sure that he sabotages his own potential escape plans ahead of time and locks himself within the abandoned building, setting up his cameras and headquarter station, as well as detailing the gruesome and macabre history of the house. Unluckily for him (but luckily for the audience), he is not alone in there, and whatever has been roaming its dusty hallways is about to manifest itself to Shawn and his viewers. We’re live (or… not?)!
Co-writing, co-directing and featuring in his own first full-length film, Joseph Winter ensured that he became Shawn Ruddy, star of the YouTube show “Wrath of Shawn”. The character begins as an obnoxious, attention-seeking YouTuber who demonstrates that he is ready for absolutely anything that will allow him to rack up the viewers as well as monetary sponsors. The first third of the film forces the audience to discover just exactly who Shawn is, in addition to entering the abandoned house and having him react to each of its creaks and groans. Most viewers will roll their eyes at how intolerable Shawn is (and frighteningly close to YouTubers’ reality) and will barely crack a smile at the cringey and tacky gags or typical scare attempts of a haunted house film. Rough start.
Fortunately, business picks up in the middle frame of “Deadstream”. It throws at the audience its fair share of hilarious scenes, mingled with effective jumpscares. What’s surprisingly amusing about the jumpscares is that they aren’t the typical “incredibly loud sound that has nothing to with the context of the scene” jumpscare; they are shocking moments that either are directly connected to the storyline or environment (like a door slamming, for instance) or an in-your-face frightening moment that is accompanied by equally disturbing visual eye-candy. Hats off to co-directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter for succeeding at this technique which has become redundantly annoying and misused in modern horror films. In addition to this, the film rarely suffers from the typical visual shakiness that has become the number one pet peeve of found footage detractors. Sure, there are some realistic and understandably short instances of jerkiness or trembling, but the film’s cinematography is, for the most part, smooth and enjoyable.
As mentioned above, the real-life Winter couple who wrote and directed together created a film that progressively becomes more and more entertaining and to which you get attached to; even the exasperating YouTuber. Contrary to some other horror films from 2022 like “Crimes of the Future” or “Men” that contain particular storylines, numerous undertones and so much room for interpretation, “Deadstream” is simply a found footage horror-comedy where the audience is taken on a wild ride of pure, unfiltered fun. Remove your thinking caps for 87 minutes and don’t try to over-analyze any subliminal messages. Sure, the film carries a message of heavy criticism on YouTubers and the unfortunate lengths to which they will go to for clicks online, but the main purpose of this film is for the hilarious amusement of the audience. Viewers will definitely be pleased to see the haunted house tale slowly morph into an Evil Dead-ish ambiance with an appealing variety of ghosts/entities.
“Deadstream” hits it out of the park in regards to a crazy journey of laughter and frights, enhanced by some superb make-up work and impressive practical effects. Sure, the comedic haunted house tale is déja-vu in the world of horror, but as a found footage tale? Not so much, which is why Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s film receives the rewarding score of 8/10.