Are you ready for “the most cinematic experience in live streaming” horror…?
…Because, my friends, that’s exactly what you’re going to get with writers/directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s found footage haunter Deadstream, their debut feature together which just premiered at SXSW 2022.
Deadstream stars Joseph Winter as Shawn, a disgraced internet personality who creates videos of himself facing his greatest fears with hilarious results. In an effort to win back fans, Shawn decides he’s going to livestream himself facing his worst fear, ghosts, by staying in a haunted house dubbed “Death Manor” overnight. Shawn is hoping for a sensational experience, but what he isn’t ready for are actual, maniacal ghosts hellbent on making sure his stay with them is permanent.
This film is the most fun you’ll have being scared all year.
Deadstream is a riot from start to finish, largely thanks to the one man show of complete and utter terror that is Shawn/Joseph Winter. From the moment we meet him, he’s the type of character you love to hate. Loud, obnoxious, and utterly detestable in his constant mention of sponsors—Joseph really nails the vibe of most “influencers”—there’s a spirit to the character that sucks you in right away. He's a complete and utter idiot that serves up laugh after laugh with his outrageous antics and high-pitched screams (hell yes to male characters that actually scream like they’re truly terrified. More men should scream like Shawn in horror movies). Think Ash Williams, but on cocaine and a lot wimpier.
No matter how much you detest Shawn and people like him, the filmmakers do an excellent job of endearing the audience to the character. Before Shawn even enters the decrepit, spooky, definitely don’t go in there house—shout-out to the A+ production design from Amy Leah Nelson Smith, with creepy graffiti all around and hidden, fun messages that make Deadstream worthy of an immediate revisit—he’s already freaking out at every little sound, and so are we. An interesting touch is that the filmmakers put us in the seat of one of Shawn’s streamers, able to see their array of comments and making us want to comment to him with them. I found myself screaming at the dumb bastard “don’t do that” multiple times as he tosses his car’s spark plugs into the woods, drops his key into a vent, etc, all in the name of keeping himself from wimping out.
Shawn’s stupidity is half the fun, though. I don’t watch internet personalities, but if they were all as funny as Shawn, I just might. Between lines like him announcing he’s approaching “the paranormal G-spot of this house” and declaring he’s had the “nervous poops” all week leading up to the event, I could’ve followed Shawn through this house for six more hours. But alas, Deadstream runs at a brisk ninety minutes, without one second wasted. Throughout all of it, Joseph Winter comes off as one-hundred-percent genuine, adding a realism to the horror that found footage films sometimes have trouble selling.
The house is a character all its own, brought to life with a sound design from Brenden Bytheway and Doug May that thumps, groans and squishes its way into your rattling bones (and bless Shawn for bringing his own spooky music mixtape for added cinematic effect). Set on a stormy night—because of course--Deadstream is pure haunted house horror, with Shawn as our teeth-chattering guide. Through Shawn’s setup of placing cameras all around the house and equipped with his own bodycam, the filmmakers cleverly draw the audience’s attention to each and every corner of the house, waiting to see something spooky out of Shawn’s view…and rewarding that attention often. If you don’t jump out of your seat, you might already be dead. I’m not saying you’re going to get the nervous poops like our buddy Shawn, but I’m not not saying that.
Shawn is a blast to watch, but the (many) spooky spirits have a wild energy to match. There’s no doubt that the Winters were heavily inspired by Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise. The ghosts in Deadstream share a lot of similarities to the Deadites. Done up with great, gooey, gross practical FX by makeup artist Mikaela Kester and creature designer Troy Larson, they’re just like Raimi’s fiends in that they love to “play” and torment the minds of their victims. Deadstream is utter madness in the goofiest sense of the word. Ever seen a ghost gleefully pick someone’s nose with a rotten finger? Neither had I until Deadstream.
A true funhouse of terror, ghosts creep, drop and scream into frame from all directions. Even when you know what’s going to happen, the Winters find a way to do it in shocking and unexpected ways. While there’s plenty of blood—and at least one geyser of the red stuff, Raimi style—the filmmakers shoot more for the gross-out giggles, incorporating a bevy of POV shots that’ll have you either screaming or gagging or both as Shawn faces one nasty encounter after the next.
The one and only area Deadstream disappoints is in its thematics, in which it attempts to connect the very idea of ghosts collecting—or swallowing, heh—souls to that of collecting followers. With some vague (purposefully silly) lore and Shawn’s own facing of his inner demons, the kernels are there, but never quite materialize into a solid and meaningful commentary on toxic internet culture. That being said, Deadstream is such an entertaining scarefest that I doubt you’ll be concerned with how well the film’s message hits.
If you enjoy a good, scary found footage movie, I cannot recommend the real-time horror that is Deadstream enough. This is the rare horror comedy that manages to succeed in both elements with ease. It is indeed the most cinematic experience in live streaming, one that comes just a level or two shy of matching the chaotic craziness of Raimi’s Evil Dead films.
Hit that subscribe button when Deadstream becomes available. You’ll be glad you did.
Personally, I'm dying to see what the Winters do next.
By Matt Konopka