[SXSW Review] DEADSTREAM
Courtesy Blue Finch Films
YouTube stars come and go like the wind. In one moment, they can find fame and fortune and, in the next, lose it all. Staying at the top of the vlogger game in a society where our attention span is shorter than short is a hard game. Now imagine losing all of that – the fans, the sponsors, the money. In the horror-comedy DEADSTREAM, from co-directors/writers Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter,  we watch as a top YouTube star endures his biggest fear in hopes of finding himself back at the top of his game.

In DEADSTREAM, Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter), a popular and toxic vlogger tries to win back his fans, and sponsors, after finding himself canceled due to one of his antics. To try and reclaim his fandom, he decides to conquer his biggest fear: ghosts, live on camera at an abandoned haunted manor. There, he will lock himself overnight and livestream so as to document his experience and any paranormal activity that may take place However, after disregarding an ominous symbol, and a surprise by a mysterious super-fan, strange and unexplainable things begin to occur that find Shawn fighting for his survival.

From the get-go, Shawn isn’t likable. Reminiscent of YouTuber Logan Paul, Shawn has found himself canceled after pushing a stunt too far. You might be asking yourself, “Why should I watch a movie featuring an asshole character?” The answer is simple: he’s, unfortunately, hilarious. I hated that I enjoyed his character so much but, gosh darn it, I couldn’t stop laughing at him. The majority of this film falls on the shoulders of Joseph Winter’s performance and luckily, outside of a few instances where the character really gets annoying, Winter crushes it. Every high-pitched scream, sarcastic remark, and moment of panic felt genuine. And, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s fun to see characters like this receive the karma they deserve.

While at the Manor, Shawn tells his viewers the urban legend surrounding the manor and a woman named Mildred who died there of suicide. As Shawn settles in, odd things begin to occur and, after a terrifying experience with a ghostly encounter, Shawn gets a surprise when a superfan shows up to help him with his investigation. Played by Melanie Stone, Chrissy is the exact YouTube super-fan you’d expect with an unexplainable oddness to them. Stone really captures that excitement of someone gassed up to meet one of their favorite celebrities. Her arc takes a much different turn than Shawn’s, but for the sake of spoilers, I won’t say much other than she more than performed.

For their first feature film, the Winters did an impressive job. It’s clear from the look and feel of the film that the Winters have a massive love for the genre and an even bigger passion for practical effects. For an indie film, these were some of the best practical effects I’ve seen in some time. Ranging from neck stabbings to unspeakable terrors, the team concocted terrifying and grotesque creations that will bring joy to gore-loving horror fans. The only time it stumbles is during scenes that require close-ups. It’s here where you can see the limitations that come with shooting an indie film i.e. the budget. But, outside of that, the overall execution of the practical effects ere just excellent. If you were a fan of Adam Green’s Digging Up The Marrow then you’ll have an appreciation for some of the creature designs featured in this.

DEADSTREAM follows in the same footsteps as most every other found footage film. With the use of a GoPro and a camera strapped to him pointed at his face as well as cameras surveilling the inside of the manor, viewers are seeing every little detail that’s unfolding just like Shawn is. On top of that, the livestream has comments filtering through, some of which Shawn absurdly comments back. And, like with any found footage, you can expect jump scares sprinkled throughout. I love a fun jump scare and I’m happy to admit that one scene actually made me jump off the couch.

Overall, DEADSTREAM is scary fun and a worthwhile addition to the found-footage subgenre. It does suffer from budget limitations and the character of Shawn can get grating at times, but it more than makes up for that with skilled practical effects, grotesque creature design, and unfiltered humor. Plus, you aren’t going to want to miss out on the banging soundtrack, and Shawn’s big comeback.

DEADSTREAM had its World Premiere on March 11, 2022, at SXSW. The film was recently picked up by Shudder, so stay tuned for more news on its release date!

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