Freshly sprung from internet jail after a tasteless stunt turned tragic, notorious livestreamer Shawn (Joseph Winter) seizes upon a comeback scheme: he’ll broadcast a night spent alone in a supposedly haunted house. Thus begins Deadstream, a movie that knows you’re already very familiar with found-footage horror, ghost-hunting shows, and the attention-seeking hijinks of the internet-famous—and cleverly uses that to its advantage.
After a rapid-fire intro that tells us everything we need to know about Shawn’s personality (glib, buffoonish, always “on”), he shows off the array of equipment he’ll be bringing to “Death Manor,” a crumbling, graffiti-bedecked farmhouse with quite a dark history, though the possibilities of contracting tetanus or some kind of mold-borne illness feel like the biggest threats at first. All of Deadstream is framed as being Shawn’s actual livestream, so it makes sense that he’s constantly recording everything—and that he carries a selfie cam and a POV cam, and sets up numerous motion-activated infrared cameras around the house, means the movie is more dynamic than found-footage horror that captures its action on a single shaky-cam. He also occasionally inserts outside videos into the stream and periodically checks in with viewers, whose snarky remarks (“This is so fake!!!”) pop up on the screen so we can read them too.
Shawn makes a big show of locking himself inside the house, as well as taking the spark plugs out of his car and tossing them in the bushes—measures that look dramatic on camera but also perfectly telegraph one of his biggest flaws: his utter inability to think things through. Even if he doesn’t encounter any ghosts, isn’t he going to need to leave in the morning? But of course, this movie is called Deadstream, and it’s not a spoiler to say that Shawn’s goofy spook hunt soon proves fruitful, causing him to feel some deep regrets about not just the lock and the spark plugs, but the decision to visit Death Manor in the first place.
It would spoil the fun of Deadstream—not to mention its juicier twists and shocks—to dig any deeper into the plot. But the movie knowingly ticks off some familiar horror tropes (there’s a creepy clown doll, a dusty old journal, an Ouija board, sinister chanting, and some wonderful Evil Dead homages) while Shawn and his more helpful audience members frantically track the paranormal phenomena being captured by his abundant cameras, as well as puzzle through exactly who is haunting the place and why. Shawn, of course, also tries to figure out a survival strategy, and even though the character is meant to be obnoxious, you can’t help but root for him—if only because Deadstream is such a good time, you want it to keep going. It all builds to a climax that weaves together not just frights, of which there are plenty, but also some thoughtful observations about accountability, as well as what happens to a person’s soul when they become obsessed with building a following.
Props are due to Winter and his filmmaking partner and wife, Vanessa Winter, who make their feature-film debut here with a film they co-directed, co-wrote, and co-edited together; Joseph Winter also composed the music. Deadstream’s slender cast includes a notable turn (no spoilers!) by Melanie Stone, who’s also one of the film’s producers. Next up, the Winters will have a segment in V/H/S/99, which releases October 20 and feels like the perfect showcase for them to further flex their found-footage prowess.
Deadstream arrives on Shudder October 6.
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