2022 SXSW Film Festival Review

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Deadstream, 2022.

Written and directed by Vanessa Winter and Joseph Winter.
With Joseph Winter and Melanie Stone.

SYNOPSIS:

A disgraced internet personality attempts to win back his subscribers by live-streaming a night alone in a haunted house. But when he accidentally unleashes a vengeful spirit, his big comeback event becomes a real-time fight for his life.

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Hanging somewhere between paranormal activity and diabolical death is Joseph and Vanessa Winter’s feature debut, which, despite its superficial familiarity, delivers an energetic take on found footage (or rather, streaming images) movie.

Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter) is a popular live streamer and social media personality whose brand is ruined overnight after a prank involving a homeless man goes horribly wrong. In an attempt to rehabilitate his image and win back subscribers, however, Shawn returns with a seemingly innocuous new live stunt; spend a night alone in an abandoned and supposedly haunted house.

With cameras planted around the house and attached to his own body, Shawn vows to check out anything even remotely odd in the house. But to make sure he didn’t chicken out, he also threw the spark plugs out of his car and locked himself inside the house with the discarded key. And so, as it becomes clear that there is indeed a very legitimate paranormal presence within it, Shawn documents every second of his personal hellish night.

As with most live-streamed films of the genre, Deadstream offers a giddy parody of the virtual lifestyle/increasing income streams, Shawn is actually a caricature of a hyperactive, snappy YouTuber who panders to a fan base likely to be mostly teenagers. Shawn’s obnoxious style of videos perfectly captures shock-jock streamers for who they are, and the periodically posted comments from his viewers are as hilarious as they are authentic.

The Winters artfully poke fun at the various touchstones of live culture and social media fame; Shawn’s recent “cancellation” following a morally repugnant act, the inevitable apology video, and of course his general desire to monetize and commodify his life as much as possible.

It eventually extends to even the most gruesome night of his life once the haunted house kicks off, all captured by a hilarious number of cameras placed in virtually every room in the house and broadcast to his remaining fans. Shawn’s desperation to regain his economic position initially motivates his decision to submit to this ordeal, but without a working car or house key, he is effectively confined to it anyway.

Horror adjacent to found footage is a tough problem to tackle these days, if only because the subgenre feels so well-acted and wildly oversaturated, and yet in all its mastery of the genre, Deadstream manages to both playfully dispatch it and create a genuinely anxious example of it.

Perhaps its supreme subversion lies in delivering a contemporary reworking of the typical horror movie scene where an expert arrives to expose the heroes to the supernatural entity they are fighting. Most of the experts here are kids watching Shawn’s stream and sending him YouTube videos featuring their own “research” on what’s going on.

While no one will confuse it with a big-budget stab in the genre, credit goes to the filmmakers and their production designer for creating compelling, grotty work that makes you want to shower. Haunted houses are tens of dollars in horror movies, but it’s clear that a huge effort has been made to give the central location a creepy-skinned feel. It serves as a solid foundation for a host of nighttime thrills, from eerie sound effects to more outlandish moments, visual effects-driven and, above all, practically designed. evil DeadStyle raw shock absorbers.

The Winters do just enough novelty with their salon trick set to stand out; Shawn using a tablet to view the various live streams around the house is a new conceit that results in some nice surprises. On a larger narrative level, there’s also a clever mix of live-streaming mechanics and supernatural lore, drawing a fun parallel between social media followers and ghostly slaves.

Without giving too much away, things take a particularly messy turn halfway through, after which the creepy, gooey shit funhouse continually escalates for an intense race to the finish. Above all, from start to finish Deadstream manages to be both fun and legitimately nerve-wracking while finishing in a tidy 87 minutes.

As co-writer-director and star of the film, Joseph Winter delivers a well-calibrated performance as Shawn; we know he’s an asshole, but he’s just sympathetic enough to put down roots as the survival situation becomes increasingly dire. While this is absolutely Winter’s show, Melanie Stone also provides solid support in a role that’s probably best left for audiences to find out for themselves.

I found images of cursed fatigue, Deadstream proves that there’s still room for thrills and creativity in the oversaturated genre.

Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more cinematic rides.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

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