The most interesting “influencer” cinema to date, from Eugene Kotlyarenko’s “Spree” to Daniel Goldhaber’s “Cam,” held up a shattered mirror to the strange world of these public performers, peering into its cracks to create analogues cinematic originals for the digital self. Beneath projections on a livestream, these films promise, lurks a more twisted psychological truth, more likely several. Beyond casting an actor who can suggest his character’s interiority from a distorted distance, through strike and gesture, the best of these films tap into their own recursive hall of mirrors potential, using techniques like split-screen and rotoscoping to intensify an impression of endless screens within screens, reality being dislocated and destabilized by various intradiegetic frames – including that of the film itself.
More irreverent than insightful, “Deadstream” opens with such dislocation. “In October 2022, a beloved internet personality disappeared from a home near Payson, Utah while streaming a live event. A year later, these images have been found,” reads the opening card, designed to look like that of found footage classic “The Blair Witch Project,” before the camera pulls back to reveal these words written on a shirt that identifies itself as “piece of trash” Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter), sells as merchandise. Disgraced and demonetized after an ethically questionable stunt went wrong, the public turned on him and the sponsors backfired, Shawn vowed to get back live on his way to profitability by spending the night in a haunted house , which he installs with multiple motion-activated cameras. (plus one he wears and one mounted on his head for POV shots).
It all goes as badly as you’d expect, as the spirits of the house emerge to claim Shawn for their own soul retinue, albeit his pledge to take ridiculous risks in the name of “I love and s’ subscribe” offers a fun justification for the character’s poverty. decision making throughout. Starring in “Deadstream” in a frenetic one-man show, Winter also co-wrote, co-directed, co-produced and co-edited the film with his wife Vanessa; it adds to the feeling that a low-budget comedy-horror feature is cobbled together by its participants in real time (at one point Shawn even releases a tape he recorded – “Shawn Carpenter’s Halloween” – to gear up, and “Deadstream”, with a synth soundtrack). A commentary stream that watches, mocks, and sometimes helps Shawn survive his stay, meanwhile, allows the Winters to eviscerate their protagonist and plot with the explosive farce of a chorus of the audience. “This mythology is a mess,” complains one, as others offer their own contrasting takes on Shawn’s roles as victim, hero, villain and last guy in a horror special at fast unfolding – or completely doubt its authenticity, an insinuation that the filmmakers treat themselves to rubbery monster masks and splashy makeup.