Review: Deadstream (Fantastic Fest 2022)


Title: Deadstream
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Joseph Winter, Vanessa Winter
Starring: Joseph Winter, Melanie Stone, Jason K. Wixom
Runtime: 1 hr 27 mins

What It Is: Shawn Ruddy (Winter) is a vlogger and streaming personality known for testing the limits of what’s morally acceptable by taking on extreme video challenges. Determined to win back fame and the hearts of his audience, the obnoxious internet host tries his luck by locking himself into a notoriously haunted house and seeing for how long he can survive. When a strange superfan named Chrissy (Stone) tracks Shawn down and encourages his live stream audience to let her stay as a guest, things begin to unravel and go awry–not in the way Shawn could have ever anticipated.

What We Think: Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge nut for found footage and live horror films. Just recently I’ve had the pleasure of watching The Medium and Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, two extremely well-done films in the genre. I would also put this movie alongside others that feature ‘meta’ and ‘live’ elements such as Spree (starring Joe Keery and directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko), Unfriended, and Host (although we won’t be talking about the two latter). There aren’t many other films of their kind but it’s exhilarating when done right. In Spree and Gonjiam, we see the ‘Internet Personality’ archetypes done with more realism and seriousness, admitting humor when they need to but of course not shying away from the disorienting brutality that leads to the in-universe audiences to either be shocked or left in disbelief. The interface and use of live streams and social media are very important as well in order to convey a believable scenario, as too many of us, tacky or unlikely-looking digital elements easily break the illusion of a film’s “reality.” So logically, if a found footage doesn’t look realistic, it won’t feel real. One of the most important aspects of all found footage is the closeness to reality in order to make the audience and subjects all the more uncomfortable, and for many films, it’s a thin line. For this one, in particular, it seems to be almost stepping in and out of the genre in order to focus more on the comedy of the sheer silliness of the lead character and the scenario rather than scares. This is fine. Did the goofiness succeed? For myself personally, not as much. It’s overt how it parodies real-life internet personalities who have recently created loads of unnecessary drama for content, such as Shane Dawson, the Paul brothers, and the beauty community (too many names to list), but it feels like Spree already went there. Here, the idea is played up much more for the sake of comedy, but much of the time becomes too grating and annoying to watch and not be discomforted, which for some may be effective, but for myself, I didn’t find the resolution to be as satisfying of a karmic payback as it could have been for how much I had to suffer watching the amalgamation of gross Youtube drama queens. However, this doesn’t mean many will probably enjoy its easygoing and pointed humor, with goofy imagery and characters.

Our Grade: C, A potentially fun ghosty-comedy framed as an annoying, attention-obsessed Internet personality’s spooky live stream, I could see this appealing to a younger or more family-oriented audience seeking some sort of relief or closure from the recent era of drama content. Otherwise, technically, had the film been more serious, I would suggest it would have taken a more mature approach, but in this case, it didn’t need to go as hard seeing as the movie is directed more as a quirky comedy, so its meta believability, or lack thereof, isn’t too much of a negative. My largest critique, however, is if the film is going in the direction of satirizing Youtube videos and internet personalities, it doesn’t take the ridiculousness far enough. I wish there had been some way where perhaps the character Shawn Ruddy could have had the content edited or edited live so it could have really felt like an obnoxious Youtube video, with the dumb sound effects and exploitative music to pair with his exaggerated reactions, just as real Youtubers would do (e.g. the violin strings, air horns, beat drops…). That would have made this flick far funnier and there’s so much they could have run with technically, but those elements felt like they were missing or lacking.

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