SXSW 2022 Review: Deadstream

Year: 2022

Runtime: 87 minutes

Directors:  Vanessa and Joseph Winter

Writers: Vanessa and Joseph Winter

Cast: Joseph Winter, Melanie Stone

By Tom Moore

The found-footage horror subgenre has evolved in the digital age delivering stories surrounding livestreaming and social influencers and the feature directorial debut of Joseph and Vanessa Winter, “Deadstream,” is this evolution in fully swing.

No longer is “found-footage” restricted to some horror story someone would unexpectedly come across on a blank VHS tape as the subgenre has really grown into the more modern tech environment. Films like “Host”(2020) and “Unfriended”(2014) created unique and terrifying horror stories over video calls while other films, like “Spree”(2020) and “Dashcam” (2021) (my review here: https://intheirownleague.com/2021/09/14/dashcam-tiff-2021-review/)  have focused on livestreams of social influencers being terrorized by or even enacting unimaginable horrors. “Deadstream” fits into the latter category as it follows the latest livestream of disgraced streamer Shawn, played by Joseph Winter, as he attempts to win back his audience by spending the night in a supposedly haunted house, but ends up getting more than he bargained for.

“Deadstream’s” depiction of toxic social influencers is very akin to “Spree” and “Dashcam” as Shawn is your very stereotypical, arrogant influencer who’s desperate for the adoration of his fans and pathetically attempts to shamelessly maintain his fame. Just within the opening that displays Shawn’s Jackass-like antics of “facing his fears” you can already feel how obnoxious and genuinely annoying he is, and this doesn’t dissipate at any point in the film. Throughout the entire experience he is essentially a giant, self-absorbed cry baby who fears everything and is overly obsessed with his image.

At times, this can work in creating really funny moments and reactions and Winter definitely nails this kind of character. Also, some of the lines from the Winters will definitely get a laugh as Shawn’s attempts to avoid strikes by not cursing can be really funny and there’s are some solid nods to the social influencer world that’ll easily earns some chuckles. However, the film’s depiction of a toxic social influencer doesn’t have much nuance to it and struggles to make it more satirical than bland parody.

There’s no attempt to take Shawn out of this influencer character or show a different side to him, so there’s nothing to like about the character. It would’ve been nice to see the veil over Shawn’s act be pulled away to add more layers to the character and make his sudden realization of his behavior feel satisfying or remotely genuine. Perhaps keeping in this character is kind of the point as he’s so dedicated to regaining his audience, but Shawn is so off-putting it’s tough to be invested in him. Also, it’s frustrating how remarkably dumb Shawn is in how he essentially foils his own escape and it’s totally unbelievable how he fully strands himself just for the sake of a video.

“Deadstream’s” take on social influencers might not always work in its favor for creating a likeable or interesting protagonist or consistent comedy, but it does work in pretty much every other aspect of the film. In terms of storytelling, the Winters utilize its livestream setting incredibly well to create an engaging experience. Shawn’s ability to talk to his audience creates these organic moments of exposition that make the story of the film’s central house more interesting. Shawn showing videos and evidence of the house’s history of haunts is a great way to divulge lore in a unique way and it’s fun to see Shawn’s audience talk back to him about things he may not understand or see.

From new information about the lore and how to defeat this evil presence to things they pick up on other cameras that Shawn isn’t seeing, Shawn’s audience is actually a very effective storytelling tool. Also, the addition of an unexpected guest adds some funny moments and a solid turn to this mostly solid story. “Deadstream” has plenty of twists and turns that most viewers will enjoy, but also has some solid scares for horror fans that comes from its creepy creature designs.

While the idea of Shawn setting up the different cameras in each room might not reach its full scare potential, once he starts having to fend against horrifying entities, “Deadstream’s” best horror qualities come to light. The practical design of the film’s skin-crawling creatures is legitimately grotesque in the best ways possible and there are some impressive effects work with some of the jaw-dropping kills and blood-spilling that occur throughout Shawn’s fight for survival. It’s definitely the kind of gore and terror that fans of the genre love to see and the Winters use the first-person perspective well in creating some solidly suspenseful moments.

“Deadstream” doesn’t break the mold for what found footage horror has become in the digital age but does show some uniqueness in its scares and storytelling to make it a worthwhile watch for horror fans.

3 stars

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