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SXSW Deadstream Review- Screen Life Gets Hilarious Horror-Comedy Styling

Deadstream is exactly what a horror-comedy should be. It is kooky, funny, and unexpectedly scary with a slick videogame sensibility and excellent creature effects.

I wanted to hate Deadstream. I love found footage, but even I think it’s played out, and the influx of Screen Life horror movies has exhausted me. Superhost was an unexpected gem during the pandemic when we all went from one Zoom call to another, but largely, the subgenre is tired. I thought this would be yet another found footage hack job. It was instead a seriously funny, well-balanced scary movie. There is a lot that could have gone wrong. With one character to drive the majority of the film, it could have been a disaster. In Joseph Winter’s capable hands, though, it is an unmitigated delight.

Deadstream is the kind of film that is clever enough to be self-aware and cheeky enough to lean into the madcap lunacy of the internet live stream. This is a land where only likes, clicks, follows, and subscribes matter. If you’re not selling yourself 24/7, you have been left behind.

Youtube douchebag Shawn Ruddy, a viciously dopey Joseph Winter who also co-wrote and directed Deadstream with partner Vanessa Winter is desperate to win back his fans after a viral video went too far, resulting in the injury of an innocent man. After months of exile, he switched to Livvid, a Twitch stand-in to reclaim his former glory. He plans on spending one night in a haunted house facing his fears.

Shawn is an idiot, though. He breaks every horror movie rule by providing himself no way out. He locks the house and tosses his car keys and spark plugs to ensure he can’t chicken out. Making matters worse, the only safe room in the house has a talisman hanging on the wall, which Shawn carelessly knocks down. We know he’s a goner from the very beginning, but despite his obnoxious behavior and too clueless apologies, I found myself rooting for him.

He is the kind of toxic moron who thinks nut kicks are clever entertainment. We first meet him in a series of videos that make clear that what started as innocent albeit stupid stunts disintegrated into a mess of unsympathetic exploitations. There is also something endearingly foolish about Shawn that Winter captures perfectly. He’s selfish, greedy, callous, ignorant, and naive beyond belief, but he’s your friend’s dorky brother who you just found out is making a cool 40K promoting Minecraft servers. Anyone with a laptop and a phone can become famous in the digital age.

This film spends only a second on cancel culture rather than feeling like an afterthought; it highlights the fleeting popularity of these sorts of celebrities. Internet celebrity is fleeting, fans are fickle, and as much as the stars are to blame for insensitive and dangerous antics, so maybe are we who demand a bigger and wilder piece of the pie each time we watch. The motto isn’t go big or go home; it’s go bigger or go home every single time.

The detached nature of the live stream is used to good effect, making everything feel both removed and intimate at the same time. Deadstream effortlessly slides between mediums. The best comes in the form of the live stream itself. Shawn has cameras set up everywhere, including himself, but the Winter’s pull the camera back to show us what is happening on the live stream, and it is genius. A veritable flood of nasty comments, adoration, and advice from thousands of fans pour in. Interspliced videos from people with expertise and google wisdom are amusing, and so on the nose, you can’t help but laugh. Twelve-year-olds who have sleuthed out demonic wards and grannies with history in the home and a healthy dose of pessimism share space with college professors and “bruhs” who want Shawn to get castrated live.

Comedy comes from the absurdity of a demon who wants to be Instapopular and sly little jokes about real-life Youtubers PewDiePie. It lends a stabilizing hand that keeps things from tipping too far into insanity, landing instead in a glorious place where greats like Army of the Dead and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil live. Deadstream harkens back to the golden age of horror-comedy, where creatures are absurd, children curse, and houses attack. This film absolutely works because it is gleefully, unapologetically now, while celebrating yesterday.

Creature effects are very well done, and the musical montage moments are so quintessentially 80’s I couldn’t help but smile. The practical effects are exemplary, especially for such a low-budget film. The meticulous production design and horror movie lighting help capitalize on the creepy creatures just when you need them the most. The jumpscares are just like the laughs. You want to be above it all. You don’t intend on startling, but there you are with everyone else clutching the armrest and catching your breath. A perfect mix of humor and fear whips up a delightful bit of horror nostalgia.

Even the mythology of this haunted house and the female demon who lives there is well thought out. It would be easy to go the traditional haunted house route. But instead, Deadstream crafts a ridiculously funny and scary monster who craves fame just as much as Shawn. There is one particular joke I won’t spoil, but it is worth the price of admission alone.

Deadstream is the kind of film that will become a Halloween staple. It is a party movie best experienced with friends in the dark. Last night, it got its world premiere as part of the Midnighters series at SXSW.