Deadstream Review: A Haunted House Comedy For The Livestreaming Age [SXSW]

Joseph and Vanessa Winter's "Deadsteam" recalls and channels the time a ragtag collective shot their would-be cult famous "Evil Dead" on renegade terms. A derelict, boarded-up estate deep in Utah's woodlands. A skeleton crew. Low budgets, high spirits, and minimal tolerance for digital effects over creepily original practical crafts. Not to say "Deadstream" will do for Screenlife horror what "Evil Dead" did to the cabin-in-the-woods subgenre. Still, the Winters lay a harder-than-it-looks template that future filmmakers will attempt to replicate through newer livestream techno-horror lenses.

"Deadsteam" feels at home with "Hell House LLC" and "The Houses October Built" through blueprints. Joseph Winter stars as disgraced YouTube celebrity Shawn Ruddy, who's switched platforms — now on Twitch knockoff Livvid — to monetize his fanbase and reclaim influencer infamy. His popular series "Wrath Of Shawn" pits the host against all of his fears, but his comeback needs to be more epic than exploiting Mexico's border crisis or any other moronic prank he's pulled. We, the audience, follow Shawn as he locks himself inside the reportedly haunted Death Manor that once belonged to lovesick 1800s poet Mildred Pratt. We, the audience, watch Shawn as he breaks every horror movie rule in the textbook for viewership spikes.

We, the audience, know Shawn is screwed.

Mentioning "Hell House LLC" and "The Houses October Built" alongside "Deadstream" is to emphasize the walkthrough frights all three films share. As Shawn tactically plants cameras around Death Manor and wanders between rooms with supernatural activity, it's like we're shuffling through an immersive Halloween maze. It's all the excitement and terror of a haunted house without leaving your couch. Corner Man (Jason K. Wixom) appears in the master bedroom murmuring one of Mildred's poems. Gunky bathtub water suggests an endless abyss. Children's giggles echo and travel from the nursery — the Winters utilize surveillance footage and architectural hideaways to conceal many a scare actor's delights. "Festive" is the description I'd use since I can see this future Shudder Original becoming an October favorite filled with jump-and-squeal experiences as viewers share nervous laughter.

More impressively, "Deadstream" polishes its livestreamer gimmick to a seamless application like "Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum," or how "Unfriended" similarly did via voyeuristic Skype overlays. Shawn continues interacting with commentators as they either goad him into spinning his wheel of stupidity ("Seance," "Ouija Board," and other selections) or helpfully translate ancient runes and Latin passages. Cameras swap as Shawn pees himself cycling through his iPad control center, playing this survival cat-and-mouse game by dodging the malevolent squatters he's disturbed. Cinematographer Jared Cook understands the limitations of GoPro-sized handhelds and also Shawn's narcissistic addiction to screens that cover our main audience viewpoint (his forehead cam), pushing terrors beyond any frame's borders. Methodical blocking and grainy webcast feeds make Death Manor feel three times larger, enhancing Shawn's battle against vanity, selfishness, and click-worthy martyrdom.

A goofball, gross-out, grim-but-gleeful crowd pleaser

Maybe there's more DNA between "Evil Dead" and "Deadstream" than I initially admitted. As Sam Raimi once baked slapstick gags into the possession horrors of "Evil Dead" (further in "Evil Dead II"), Joseph Winter makes a buffoon of his faux-enthusiastic, desperate for attention manbaby Shawn Ruddy. The way Shawn takes breaks from ghost hunting to answer chat users becomes a clever back-and-forth given so few outside character interactions — Shawn's own rule is that he must investigate any ominous sound or oddity. Shawn's fanbase loves reminding the quivering, whining personality that sponsors will bail if he flees. The Winters understand that straightforward horror is a tougher sell since their ghouls aren't comparable to, say, 2001's "Thir13en Ghosts" horde — comedy becomes a weapon that permits enjoyment of shoestring production designs. We're allowed to belly-laugh even when Shawn's paranormal pestering becomes bloody, life-threatening, and downright satanic.

Maybe my affection towards horror-comedies defines the film's demographic because "Deadstream" is resilient in its indie aspirations, exposed seams and all. Computerized figures that drift past doorways aren't million-dollar builds, nor are undead costumes Hollywood grade. I'm brought back to Adam Green's "Digging Up The Marrow," since creature designer Troy Larson and makeup artist Mikaela Kester impress via barebones creativity. Shawn's standoffs with zombie law enforcement officers or Mildred Pratt's decaying corpse benefit from sight gags like Shawn's potato gun artillery or a particularly hilarious pants-off prank used against evil incarnate. Expecting immeasurable bouts of fear from "Deadstream" will spell disappointment, but that's why stalker fangirl Chrissy (Melanie Stone has too much fun) appears at one point — to remind everyone, for the billionth time, that we're supposed to laugh at the juvenilely stunted Shawn.

In short, "Deadstream" — or, to me, "The House The Burped Blood" — breaks the constraints of Screenlife filming methods with a boomstick's blast. Joseph and Vanessa Winter's pandemic project humorously shuns an obnoxious entertainer stuck within an '80s creature feature, frequently with a sharpened wit because simplicity provides no distractions. One man against haters online, coming off a six-month cyber ban, awakening unknown demons with his self-recorded "Shawn Carpenter's Halloween" soundtrack if that means his merch sales skyrocket. "Deadstream" is a cheekily chilling vlog-life satire that scores its shivers and smashes more than like buttons — I can't wait to cram this one into my Halloween movie marathons as a goofball, gross-out, grim-but-gleeful crowd pleaser.

Slashfilm Rating: 7.5 out of 10