We are back with another horror movie review. Today we are taking a look at Shudder original Deadstream. This is a supernatural horror comedy in the much maligned found footage style. Written and directed by Joseph and Vanessa Winter. Deadstream stars Joseph Winter himself as a disgraced social media personality. Having recently lost monetisation. He decides to go to great lengths to recoup some popularity. Even if it means spending the night in a haunted house.
This is another horror for the 2020s. Much like another movie we recently reviewed – Sissy. Deadstream acts as something of a reflection of this era. With references to PewDiePie, energy drink sponsorships and prank videos. This movie manages to feel a little out of date already. Still, it’s comical and very inventive given the limited budget and location. Without further ado, let’s take a look.
Deadstream follows the story of disgraced Social Media personality Shawn Ruddy. Ruddy is one of the internet’s most popular influencers. Having a legion of fans, he was loved by many and raking in the sponsorship deals. That was until a prank went horribly wrong. Ruddy, somehow, managed to enlist a homeless person in one of his videos. The homeless person was, unfortunately, somehow hurt. This lead to Ruddy losing his monetisation and being de-platformed from YouTube.
Having lost many of his viewers and, above all, his precious sponsorships. Shawn needs to find a way back to the top. To do this, he plans his most elaborate video yet. Ruddy will spend the night in a haunted house. Ruddy is terrified of the paranormal. Despite this, he sets himself a number of rules. He has to stay in the house. He must investigate any noise and he has to perform certain tasks.
The house Ruddy is staying in is supposedly haunted by a spirit called Mildred. History tells of a woman that hanged herself in the hallway of the home. Determined not to leave, Ruddy takes the spark plugs out of his car. He throws them into the woods preventing him from escaping. As he enters the home, he places a padlock on the door. Again, determined to pre-empt his own fear, he drops the key down a grate. Shawn Ruddy is now locked in the house. For better, or for worse.
The first thing I should point out here is just how low budget this movie is. Written, directed, produced and edited by a two person team. Joseph and Vanessa Winter run the distinct risk of spreading themselves too thin. Plenty of low budget productions feel as though they lack focus. Some areas are stronger than others and the movie, as a whole, suffers. Sometimes this is a case of an overly involved director. Other times it is purely down to budget constraints. I’m pleased to say that isn’t really the case with Deadstream.
Deadstream benefits from the creator’s tightly managed vision. The involvement of the Winters in all facets seems to keep the project focused. Deadstream is well aware of the type of horror it wants to be. It never feels as though it really strays from that. The result is a movie that is a hell of a lot of fun. It is a fair ground haunted house style horror. It features thrill after thrill. All accompanied by a steadily progressing story designed to keep you entertained. Deadstream keeps the engine revved for much of its length and never really lets up.
Deadstream follows streaming personality Shawn Ruddy as he attempts to restore his popularity. Ruddy has made his name streaming himself doing ridiculous things. From pulling pranks on people to throwing doughnuts at cops. Ruddy’s brand of humour has, apparently, made him a wildly popular internet personality. Well, that was until he filmed himself fighting a homeless person. The homeless person was, apparently, hurt. This lead to Ruddy being demonetised and losing his platform.
Still, like many popular streamers who do awful things. The viewing public is willing to give him a second chance. He is monetised again and given a new sponsorship. To prove his worth to his sponsors, Ruddy has set himself a challenge. He will spend the night in a haunted house. Ruddy has a few rules. He can’t leave, he has to film everything and he has to examine every corner. To stop himself leaving, he throws away his spark plugs and locks himself in. Little does Ruddy realise, the things he has heard about the house are more than just rumours.
It’s always fun to review Found Footage Horror. Aside from the fact that I actually enjoy movies filmed in this style. There are few horror sub-genres quite as maligned. Despite the presence of mega-hits throughout. Movies such as The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and Grave Encounters. This is a genre that people simply don’t like very much. Of course, you could place much of the blame on the oversaturation of Found Footage over the years. For a period of about a decade there was a ridiculous amount of it. In fact, I remember a time where my partner and I watched nothing else. The real problem comes from how much of it is absolutely terrible.
The DIY nature of Found Footage created a whole generation of awful filmmakers. Believing they could simply grab a camera and a few friends. Numerous would-be directors set out to make the next low budget sleeper hit. The result was dozens of poorly filmed, shaky cam, abominations. Terribly acted, nausea inducing, and, just generally, pretty awful. It only takes being forced to sit through a few of these to hate the genre as a whole. It really pays to not ignore just how well the medium can work for horror, though.
The DIY nature offers up a whole different kind of realism. Handheld cameras give the viewer a sense of actually being there. Found Footage tends to lack CG so the scares have to be psychologically based or practical. The exposed nature of the person filming offers a unique sense of vulnerability. Found Footage can feel infinitely more real than typical horror. When done well, it is an incredibly impactful medium.
Deadstream is part of a new style of found footage. Presented as a livestream being viewed over a YouTube style website. This is Found Footage for the 2020s. Perhaps dating back as far as 2002 with The Collingswood Story. Computer screen found footage offered bags of potential that hasn’t quite been realised. Movies such as Host and Unfriended gave us little hints of what could be. Despite this, it has never really taken off. Deadstream utilises the very same computer screen concept. In a more unique spin. It stretches it to a person performing for an audience of millions.
The Winters have their fingers on the pulse of current media consumer obsession. Live streamers are everywhere. Whether you watch them or not. It is hard to ignore stories of Logan Paul’s misadventures in Aokigahara forest. I am sure many of you remember PewDiePie’s brush with racist allegations. The huge popularity of these individuals has created a genre all of its own. Their personalities, talents and, indeed, even their mistakes are amplified. That’s exactly the basis for Deadstream.
Our protagonist, Shawn Ruddy, is a disgraced social media personality. Obviously taking from the negative experiences of the aforementioned streamers. Desperate to recover his popularity and please his sponsors. He will do whatever it takes. With Ruddy being a live streamer, you really expand the found footage presentation. There are people watching him, a live chat, a selfie cam, interaction with the audience. It feels like a unique and fresh take on an exhausted sub-genre. It also begs the question, why haven’t there been more horror movies presented like this?
The risk with this type of presentation is that the horror could be pushed to one side. There would be a serious temptation to make the main character the focus. Deadstream, thankfully, doesn’t fall into that trap. This is a movie that very much wants to be a horror. In fact, despite the social media style trappings. Deadstream wants to be a classic style horror. There are distinct Evil Dead vibes here. What would happen if we gave Ash a selfie camera and sent him to the cabin? This is good, old fashioned, haunted house fun. You know the kind of thing? Ghosts and decrepit monsters chasing an unfortunate soul type of stuff.
The film’s livestream presentation set it apart. Comments fly by every time Shawn checks his stream chat. His constant interactions with the camera make for effective story exposition. Numerous cameras set up in various rooms add to the scares. Videos sent in by viewers help build tension as well as progressing the story. It’s very effective stuff. This is a fresh take on the Found Footage genre.
The use of image stabilisation is noteworthy, as well. Despite said presentation, there is no shaky cam here. Shots can be framed a little bizarrely. That’s completely expected when filmed from a head cam. There is, however, nothing to induce nausea. Scenes are often brightly lit, the camera switches between a couple of shots. This is never a boring movie to look at. That’s something found footage can be all too guilty of. Deadstream’s use of selfie cams, POV cameras and live stream views is very effective.
Much like the aforementioned Evil Dead. There is a constant barrage of fair ground style scares here. Ruddy encounters a number of antagonists in his time at the house. Each of them an impressive, given the budget, show of practical effects. I wouldn’t say it is particularly scary but some of the scenes are rather effective. Cameras placed throughout the house are referenced to build tension. Members of the viewing audience spot things that Ruddy misses. This leads to some fun moments featuring Shawn viewing back the footage.
A surprise guest offers Shawn a bit of relief. Said guest is also used to poke fun at some of the jump scare horror tropes so common now. From around a third of the way in, the movie never really lets up. New things are being uncovered, the truth of Mildred’s life becomes more clear. Experts on some of the things Ruddy is seeing send in helpful videos. Members of the chat mock him. It’s a lot of fun and there is always something to be focusing on. Whether it be the chat comments or the various camera feeds displayed every now and then. Deadstream is pretty relentless.
This movie reminds me of a high paced version of The Innkeepers. There is a distinct sense of exploration. When combined with the haunted house aspect and the somewhat incompetent protagonist. That feeling of each room holding a new surprise is prevalent throughout. Considering the humour and the tiny cast. As well as the light hearted poking at horror tropes. Deadstream feels like one of those easily digestible, self contained, horror movies.
The comedy element is a strong focus here. Again, you don’t see many found footage horror movies with a strong comic leaning. I suppose it is somewhat difficult given the presentation. Deadstream maintains its humour throughout. While some of it is Evil Dead style classic comedy horror. Much of it is character based. I think it is fair to say that may be an issue for some people. Comedy horror is a fairly divisive genre as it is. When combined with found footage and a somewhat polarising type of protagonist. It is bound to divide people even further.
Joseph Winter really nails the live streamer type personality. His portrayal of Shawn Ruddy is very believable. He’s as self obsessed, obnoxious, and loud as any of the people that make their crust on Twitch. Many of the laughs come from Shawn’s reactions to events. His high pitched scream is, arguably, overused, though. Viewers may become numb to his apparent fear. He’s not a particularly likeable character. The potential for laughs at his expense are fairly high.
The comments in his chat, while nowhere near as bad as a real YouTube chat, offer some amusement. This is one of those movies where you will likely miss a lot of the humour first time. Still, some people are simply not going to enjoy the strong comedy focus. Others will really dislike the main character. This is the simple reality of comedy horror, though. Viewers who don’t enjoy this genre will likely find little to change their mind here.
Acting is great. As mentioned above, Joseph Winters really nails the live streamer personality. His reactions are often played for laughs rather than feeling authentic. He is constantly performing to an audience. When you consider the fact that there wasn’t an actual audience watching. It’s quite impressive how good of a job he does. This is, for the most part, a one man show. Winter does a great job with it but his histrionic performance may not be for everyone. It was nice to see Melanie Stone in a brief role. You may know her from the recent V/H/S 99 segment To Hell and Back. She is really good and I would have enjoyed her featuring more.
Directing is decent. This is a fairly tight production and the run time of 87 minutes is spot on. It doesn’t feel too long and the action remains consistent for much of that length. The live stream presentation is perfectly done. This wouldn’t feel out of place on Twitch or YouTube. Ruddy’s interactions with the audience feel genuine. The comments can also be quite funny. I thought the addition of videos from viewers was a nice touch. It helps keep the movie feeling fresh and mixes things up a little. The camera is never a major issue. Obviously this doesn’t look high budget. The limited locations can be a bit of a problem at times. All in all, however, the film looks fine and suits the style perfectly. There is no real shaky cam which is often a problem with this type of film.
There are a few negatives here and there. I felt the last 25 minutes or so was a little chaotic. The shit really hits the fan and it feels a little bit uneven. This isn’t a particularly scary movie. While some of the stuff is quite effective, there is no real tension or atmosphere. Ruddy’s comedic reactions lighten the mood a lot. This, in turn, lends a feeling of inconsequence to the events. Some of the gore and special effects are very nice. At other times it can look rather cheap and almost like bad horror movie costume work.
The humour does wain as the movie goes on. Ruddy, as a character, will definitely divide people. His schtick is worth a few laughs early on. As the movie goes on, it gets old pretty quick. He is a very two dimensional character with little nuance. The movie can feel a little unsure, at times, as to whether it wants to be a horror or comedy. This can leave you feeling a little off balance. It’s hard to imagine how well this movie will age, as well. Found Footage like The Blair Witch Project still works well now. This movie, however, feels very much of its time. The way live streams are presented at the moment will likely change in the future. How antiquated or out of touch Deadstream will feel in the future really depends on this.
Still, you know what you are going into with this type of film. If you enjoy horror comedy, it is an easy recommend. Fans of old school, Evil Dead style horror will have plenty to like. Deadstream is a ton of fun and well worth checking out.
Deadstream is a fun comedy horror following live stream Shawn Ruddy. Desperate to regain his popularity and sponsorships. Ruddy spends a night in a haunted house but gets more than he bargained for. Written, directed, edited and produced by a husband and wife team. Deadstream is a noteworthy accomplishment. Really funny at times, full of action and well paced. This is a fairground haunted house style movie that pays homage to the classics. Very reminiscent of films like The Evil Dead, practical effects take centre stage. While not for everyone, Ruddy's personality can be divisive. The comedy can be a little hit or miss and the film can feel a bit messy at times. All in all, however, this movie is great fun and a fantastic achievement for its small team.