2022 has brought us some pretty-high minded horror flicks. The steady stream (pun intended) of new ways to tell old stories packed with deeper themes are abundant. And I for one am slowly but surely being converted into a horror fan with every new entry. But sometimes, horror can just be downright silly on purpose, leading to a self satirizing good time at the movies. Case in point: horror can just be fun. Bells and whistles and existential examinations of humanity are great all, but sometimes you just want to watch an unlikeable representation of internet culture venture into a haunted house as a stunt and be met with evil, all with the tongue firmly planted in the cheek.
“Deadstream” is that movie, combining the live stream/YouTuber culture with “Evil Dead,” perfectly blending satire, horror, and comedy in a well balanced, small scale haunted house flick.
Written, directed, and starring Joseph and Vanessa Winter, “Deadstream” is a found footage horror film that relishes in simultaneously satirizing and paying homage to all of the elements it combines. Shawn (Joseph Winters) is a disgraced YouTube personality who has come under fire for a recent prank that put a homeless man in the hospital. Hoping to gain his following back and retain some of his sponsors, he agrees to spend the night in “Death Manor,” a rumored haunted house where several people have been said to have died. Shawn makes his escape from house almost impossible so he doesn’t chicken out, and then sets up cameras all over with the intent to live stream the entire experience. Of course, it becomes increasingly obvious that the house may in fact live up to its name, and despite help from his viewers watching evil unfold, Shawn may not live through the night.
What makes “Deadstream” so effective is in its self awareness. The Winters are acutely aware of the exhausted found footage gimmick, and their ability to instantly show the audience they too understand allows the film to take your guard down almost immediately. They also cleverly understand livestream culture, particularly YouTubers. They never venture into the “old man yells at cloud, kids and their damn phones” mentality, but are keen to expose some of the realities of harm and disregard (and for that matter, lack of self awareness themselves) that YouTubers are often found in hot water for. Shawn is narcissistic and completely disengaged from his own reality, constantly making excuses for his behavior and only ever half apologizing for some of the harmful things he’s done. Shawn is about as close to the Paul brothers as you can get without naming them by name (I will, because their antics deserve to be dragged through the mud no matter how many washed up MMA fighters they KO in boxing) and “Deadstream” knows where to point the finger. Yes, there’s legitimately evil inside the walls, but Shawn represents some of the worst of humanity, and only as the film goes on does he become someone you root for.
The film also borrows heavily from the effects and comedy of things like “Evil Dead,” in which “Deadstream” is always winking at the audience to remind you that once again, they too are in on the joke. That wink and nod never becomes self indulgent, either. The Winters are capable and smart enough to balance it all out and play with themes they are presenting in both new and familiar ways. It is darkly funny, both intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. And the reliance on practical effects and single location setting help to transport viewers into a true, entertaining B-horror movie. It’s cheesy because it wants to be, and it begs you to join in on the fun and enjoy the ride. It helps too, that “Deadstream” uses the comment section of his live stream to move the plot along, relying on anonymous YouTubers to handle the exposition. This makes for a breezy, taut narrative and allows for the single location setting to consistently take on new life.
Because it is so sure of itself, “Deadstream” never feels stale, and even as Shawn starts out as a grating protagonist, his turn from a Logan Paul substitute to an actually remorseful human being due to the evil he encounters keeps the movie fresh in a rather tired genre. “Deadstream” proves there’s still fun to be had in overused ideas, and that awareness, creativity, and humor are the keys to making it work again. The Winters first and foremost desire is for viewers to just have fun. They want you to remember that it’s ok to laugh at dumb decisions and jump scares and purposefully cheesy practical effects. Quick note on that though: “Deadstream” actually does look really good, and they utilize a lot of different cameras and camera angles to deliver some solid shot composition and maximize the low budget effects. The ghouls and haunts and deadite-esque recreations throughout the film are truly frightening at times, but it never lets you forget what well of effects they’re drawing from. They really want you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the horror ride. And for that, they most certainly succeed here.
“Deadstream” is a revitalizing entry into a tired genre, smartly blending today’s internet personalities with good old fashioned haunted house, found footage horror. It’s fun first, scary second, and has just enough of both to be another satisfying horror entry for spooky season. If you wanna laugh a little bit while getting some kicks from some scares, this has a bit of both and is certainly worth the watch.
No, I will not apologize to the Paul brothers. “Deadstream” needs your attention, not two spoiled rich kids from Ohio.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Deadstream” is currently streaming on Shudder. You can watch the trailer below.