Before you recoil in horror at the thought of yet another live streaming-set, handheld horror entry, I’d like to quickly take the time to remind you that the sub-genre has come on in leaps and bounds since the days of the black and white, shaky-cam, see nothing days of The Blair Witch Project. From the muscular chaos of Cloverfield and [REC]• to the success of newer releases like Dashcam and Searching, budget crunching filmmakers have been getting pretty adept at harnessing thrills and spill for use on tablet-sized terrors.
And so I present to you Deadstream, a first-person horror comedy that playfully pokes the ribs of the phenomenon of the online personality while throwing in some fun Blair Witch/Evil Dead style jumps while it’s at it.
Ever wanted to see one of those over-excited, morally questionable, YouTubers receive some instant karma as they parade themselves around for clicks? This might be the film for you.
We are introduced to Shawn, a YouTuber that has recently returned online from being cancelled like a bad check after his channel – a series of outragous stunts that enables him to “face his fears” – went too far with a controversial skit that lost him his sponsors. However, with a brand of energy drink backing him up and a strict code of compliance to follow lest he gets booted from the internet for good this time, Shawn reasons he’d better do something epic to restore his fan base. So, a night in a haunted house it is.
As Scooby-Doo as that sounds, the place Shawn picks certainly has no shortage of creepy stories that come with it and the name “Death Manor” certainly carries a certain weight and so we watch him as he sets up multiple cameras and fills us in on the history of the place where he’ll be wandering round all night. It seems that a wealthy, mormon heiress was desperate to get her poetry into the world, but after her beloved, publisher, lover suddenly died, she took her own life and her vengeful spirit has been causing unexplained deaths in the house ever since.
After the usual first half hour of first person wandering, half-assed seances and bickering with trolls posting smug responses, Shawn is joined by Chrissy, a superfan who has apparently has showed up to give her over-enthusiastic support.
However, it’s here where things start to go decidedly tits up as actual, paranormal phenomena starts to show up on Shawn’s multiple screen set up and they don’t seem to be particularly friendly. Worse yet, Shawn’s entire sponsorship deal revolves entirely around him not leaving the premises under any circumstances and has even gone as far as to throw the spark plugs of his car into the woods to make sure he doesn’t lose his funding. If he doesn’t watch out, his livestream will soon be anything but.
Crafted with tangible enthusiasm by husband and wife directing team Joseph and Vanessa Winter, Deadstream is obviously having great fun at the expense of a genre that’s famous for having the kind of undulating camerawork that invariably ends up pointing directly up our protagonist’s nose, but right off the bat you can tell that the filmmakers truly love the type of flick their movie is ribbing.
Joseph Winter – besides being on co-writing, co-producing and soundtrack duties – also portrays Shawn and how much you enjoy the movie will no doubt hinge on your tolerance his spot-on parody of excitable, moral-free, internet personalities. The whole crux of the movie hinges on the concept that our “hero” delivers himself part and parcel into the jaws of peril simply because he’d rather risk his life and eternal soul than be cancelled once more for his shitty behaviour. After previous stunts that’s seen him sled through a snowy wasteland in only his underwear and try and smuggle himself across the Mexican border, a night in a haunted house would admittedly be creepy, but would be small potatoes in comparison – however, once Shawn discovers that ghosts are not only real, but have targeted him specifically, the usual issues of why on earth someone would stay in such a place becomes the whole message of the entire film. Making matters even funnier, despite hurtling toward Destination: Fucked, Shawn still has to make sure he doesn’t offend his sponsors and continues to try and desperately self-censor his bad language and wave a particular brand of energy drink at the camera every now and then as misshapen ghoul lunge at him out of various dark corners.
Yes, it’s kind of obvious, but the whole “people risking their lives for likes” thing works beautifully, especially as Winter makes his opportunistic turd gradually more empathetic as the otherworldly indignities begin to pile on while the comments section gets ever more jaded. Helping the movie branch out from just being an hour and a half of Shawn’s screaming face, not only does the film mix things up with a multi-camera setup, but we even dip out of the onscreen action every now and then to view videos subscribers have posted, helpfully explaining some of the lore behind the hauntings or even offering translations and advice concerning supernatural binding rituals that could save Shawn’s life. It may take you out of the more nail biting moments of the film from time to time, but it adds enormously to the scrappy, comedic edge to the story, especially when you consider that Shawn’s getting help he may not have technically earned due to the nastier moments his career has provided.
The supernatural shit, while sparser than you’d think, thankfully goes for the weird end of the spectrum instead of trying to play Mildred Pratt and her entourage of misshapen ghouls (in a neat twist, Mildred is also searching for followers) straight. This leads to such unexpected jolts as a bloated, bath dwelling monster, a Basket Case-style pair of conjoined twins, a goblin-esque creature lurking in the garden and a spindly, Slender Man type of fucker who aid their rapidly disintegrating master in tormenting the living shit out of the whimpering intruder.
While Deadstream doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel when it comes to haunted house movies, found footage movies or even horror comedies (you could even argue that Dashcam beat it to the punch of building a first person fright flick around a content creator with a shitty outlook), but then it isn’t trying too – its trying to be as goofily entertaining as it can be while squeezing in the occasional, effective jump scare as it slow drips its exposition in easy to digest chunks.
An extraordinarily pleasant surprise and an endearing first feature for its directing duo, Deadstream is the latest entry in a sub-genre that still seems to have quite a bit of life in it left – unlike the creatures our lead disturbs in order to hock a fucking energy drink…