After the success of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, the found-footage format has become a favorite of horror filmmakers trying to do big things on small budgets. So many of these kinds of movies get made every year that it’s hard to believe the gimmick can still be effective, and yet time and time again it continues to work. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t use a breath of fresh air every once in a while though, which is exactly what it receives from husband and wife writing and directing duo Joseph and Vanessa Winter in Deadstream.
Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter) is an internet celebrity, known for a series of videos in which he attempts to face his fears who has recently found himself “cancelled” for going too far in his last livestream. In an effort to get back into the public’s good graces he decides to broadcast himself spending the night alone in the most haunted house in America that wasn’t already so famous it would price him out. The house, known as Death Manor, has clearly sat abandoned for some time, with windows and doors boarded up and graffiti and weather damage covering the walls both inside and out. As Shawn goes about setting up his various cameras he explains to the audience the history of the home, including the various acts of violence purported to have taken place within its walls while also periodically checking in on the comments from his audience, many of which will be hysterical to anyone at all familiar with the sort of discourse that typically occurs on sites like YouTube or Twitch.
It doesn’t take long for things to get creepy, as the strange noises very quickly escalate from sounds that could possibly be caused by the wind or something similarly innocuous to the sort that would definitely require something with an intent to produce them. A possibly obsessed fan known as Chrissy (Melanie Stone) somehow also gets into the house, and while Shawn is initially wary of her presence, his audience insists that he let her stay and so the pair set about further exploring the secrets of Death Manor and trying to communicate with the spirits within, of course leading to an ever-escalating series of frightening occurrences.
While the film is frequently scary, it also understands just how silly the whole premise is and gleefully leans into it. Mixing comedy with horror can be tricky, but the Winters mostly manage to pull it off, ably switching gears and allowing the tones to heighten each other. Pieces of the set-up at the beginning seem underutilized (nothing much winds up being done with the motion-detection built into Shawn’s cameras), which can feel like a bit of wasted potential, but most viewers probably won’t even notice as the action spirals ever further into the sort of over-the-top, cartoonish gore of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies. Some special effects work is better than others, with the low budget being particularly apparent in a few of the creature designs as well. The commentary on the nature of internet celebrities is pretty spot-on and remembers to avoid making Shawn so insufferable that it becomes hard to understand why anyone would want to watch him in the first place. Deadstream isn’t the best or scariest movie of the year by a long shot, but it sure is a hell of a good time. ★★★
not rated. contains strong bloody violence and gore, language, DRUG REFERENCES, AND THEMATIC MATERIAL.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor