Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Comedy and horror are well balanced in a film which demonstrates a sharp understanding of social media but is also ready to deliver on the more explicitly gruesome side of the bargain"

A couple of decades back, the popular way to pretend that a low budget film was a record of genuine events was to present it as a documentary. We then moved on to student documentaries and to amateur footage intended for YouTube, and now it’s livestreams. Needless to say, for every good entry in these crowded subgenres there are a dozen which are painful to watch. One does not approach them with high expectations. Deadstream, however, is one of the better ones.

It begins with that hyper-excitable presentation style which already seems dated even at the peak of its popularity online. We are welcomed to streaming show The Wrath Of Shawn, just returned after a period of suspension the exact cause of which is revealed bit by bit over the course of the film. Our host (played by Joseph Winter, who also co-directs) is anxious to win back his followers so that he won’t have to work in a miserable job for the rest of his life. With this in mind, he has decided to confront his lifelong fear of ghosts live online by spending a night in an allegedly haunted house. To keep himself from fleeing due to sudden panic, he throws the spark plugs from car into the underbrush, padlocks himself into the house and then drops the key for the padlock down a grate.

This may not be the smartest thinking (it doesn’t seem to occur to him that if all goes well, he’ll still need to be able to get out in the morning), but thinking is, in general, not Shawn’s strong suit. This might be part of why he’s popular – he doesn’t seem devious enough to fake anything, nor wary enough to avoid exposing every detail of his life on camera. Viewers need not worry that they’re going to be stuck in the company of a stupid person making frustrating decisions, however, because at measured intervals we get to see the comments being posted on the livestream appear at the side of the screen, and there’s no shortage of wit and insight there (along with wild conspiracy theories and the usual lazy trolling).

One of the running jokes in the film is that many of Shawn’s viewers – including children – have extensive knowledge of the occult which they are happy to share in an attempt to protect him, whereas he really has no idea what he’s doing despite being the star of the show. He has researched the house itself, telling viewers that it’s supposedly haunted by the spirit of a girl called Mildred who hung herself atc the top of the stairs. Several more people are supposed to have died there. As some of his followers point out, it looks as if it has been used as a drug den since. There’s graffiti everywhere and unpleasant-looking stains. Gradually working his way around the house, Shawn directs viewer attention to anything which looks spooky, such as a strange symbol he finds stuck to the back wall of a closet. Then he rolls his Wheel of Stupid Things, which tells him to perform a séance.

Comedy and horror are well balanced in a film which demonstrates a sharp understanding of social media but is also ready to deliver on the more explicitly gruesome side of the bargain. Occasional details highlight the craft behind the chaos (the editing between static camera shots is fantastic and a camera with a spike attached provides a well placed reference to Peeping Tom), but the illusion is very well maintained. Although there’s not much to the story, it’s played out effectively and directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter never allow viewers’ attention to drift.

A natural crowd pleaser, Deadstream proved a great fit for Frightfest 2022 and will be released on Shudder on 6 October. It’s perfect party fare, with too much going on in some scenes for one person to pick up on all of it in a single viewing, and although the story doesn’t really go anywhere unexpected, there’s a lot of fun to be had along the way.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2022
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Deadstream packshot
A washed up internet personality tries to win back his followers by livestreaming himself spending one night alone in an abandoned haunted house.
Amazon link

Director: Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter

Writer: Vanessa Winter, Joseph Winter

Starring: Joseph Winter, Melanie Stone

Year: 2022

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US

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