SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Deadstream, written and directed by Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter, follows YouTuber Shaun (Joseph Winter) attempting to mount a comeback. See, six months ago, he pulled a prank in which someone ended up in the hospital, so his sponsors severed their contracts while various social media platforms suspended him. Shaun’s channel, “Wrath of Shaun,” comprises of pranks and videos of him facing his greatest fears.
So, to celebrate his comeback, Shaun has decided to spend the night in a supposedly haunted house. After establishing a few ground rules and setting up a safe room, and placing cameras all over the home, the cocky, humorous vlogger is prepared to settle in for some scares throughout the night. However, between an obsessive, stalking fan (Melanie Stone) and seeing real ghosts throughout his stay, Shaun’s sense of adventure gives way to real terror. Is the place haunted, or is it all an elaborate scam for more and more views? How did the fan, Chrissy, even find him? If these angry spirits roaming the halls are real, can Shaun escape with his life, or was he doomed before he even got started?
The editing throughout Deadstream, by the Winters, is the secret to its success. While ostensibly all one shot, Shaun vacillates between a GoPro and a should-mounted selfie camera, so there is a wonderful variety of shots. For example, in the first scene, Shaun discusses how he isn’t streaming for the money but rather to create for his fans. As he’s talking, ads to all his merch and sponsored links fill up so much space that Shaun’s is only a tiny box in the center of the frame. It might be an easy joke, but the filmmakers take it to an absurd extreme while handling it in a relatable way. Thus, the comedic beat lands perfectly.
“…between an obsessive, stalking fan and seeing real ghosts…Shaun’s sense of adventure gives way to real terror…”
The filmmakers also ensure that the more dramatic moments and the slowly building terror are also palpable and intense. These elements pay off during the final 20 minutes, as things become all too real for the overwhelmed influencer. This is also when the extraordinary practical make-up effects by Mikaela Kester and her team get to be shown off. Once shown in full force, the designs of the various ghosts, monsters, and supernatural entities are jaw-droppingly excellent. The cast and crew of this small indie production could teach a thing or two to Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and the behind-the-scenes folks behind the ill-conceived Thing remake/prequel.
Also of note is how Deadstream incorporates the streaming aspect itself. Through his phone and computer, Shaun reads and responds to the comments left by those watching. For example, when Chrissy first shows up, he makes a poll asking his viewers if she should stay. Much to his surprise, they vote yes. Shaun also asks for their help translating Latin words and phrases he discovers in various writings strewn about the haunted house. It is a natural yet highly clever way of using the streaming conceit that absolutely works.
As Shaun, Joseph Winter gives it his all. He veers from cocksure to scared little kid to idiotic believably. His comedic timing is spot on, so each punchline works, while his more dramatic chops work to sell the gravity of the situation. Melanie Stone, who fans of high fantasy will know from the Mythica series, is just as good. She sells the obsessed fan’s bubbly, overly excited nature with energy and charisma to spare. Her turn in the latter half is handled just as well.
Thanks to strong direction, fantastic editing, and good acting, Deadstream is frightening, funny, and enjoyable. The entire thing feels like a YouTube stream, which only enhances the story’s authenticity. If you love horror comedies, seek this out as soon as possible.
Deadstream screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
"…frightening, funny, and enjoyable."