Some ‘victims’ in horror are anything but. The cliché of presenting the viewer early on with a character so reprehensible and so incessantly annoying that you can’t wait to experience the satisfaction of seeing them wiped out of existence is ever-present in the genre (i.e. Franklin from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) or Max from I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Deadstream turns this convention up to eleven and sets its sights on one of the most irritating, nay evil, archetypes seen in contemporary internet life: YouTubers.
Written and directed by Vanessa and Joseph Winter, Deadstream was released on the horror streaming service Shudder as part of its original programming in October. The story follows Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter), a disgraced YouTube personality, desperate to make a comeback by live-streaming an overnight stay in a haunted house. When he accidentally unleashes a vengeful spirit, his comeback event becomes a raucous and comedic fight for his life.
Shawn is the type of YouTuber that drives viewers crazy. Like some of his real-life counterparts, he’s fake, self-centered, and loathsome, but infuriatingly successful (or was) even with his negative attributes. He is single-minded in his goal to regain his former success and fame, so much so, that he’s oblivious to his own contradictions and the dangers around him. Winter’s portrayal is unflinching, and he nails the energy of a YouTuber so well that you almost forget he is riffing on them and isn’t one himself. You could almost picture Shawn being dragged off to hell, screaming, “remember to like, subscribe, and tell my beneficiaries what you think in the comments below.”
Shawn’s quick wit and cognitive dissonance are equally uproarious and unsettling. Joseph Winter’s portrayal is complemented nicely by the dialogue in Deadstream, which is crisp and amusing, helping to drive the film’s pacing, effectively feeding our morbid curiosity to see what happens to him next, just like his in-film viewers. This “can’t look away'' technique effectively critiques the insatiable need for views that drive so much of the internet’s content. It asks us to question whether we truly love what these creators do or if it is all just destructive schadenfreude.
The dialogue and pacing are supported by several other devices, driving home the film’s thesis: the house, Death Manor as Shawn dubs it, provides a spooky and uncomfortable setting to make him appear to be even more in contrast with his reality. The unhelpful live-stream chat lavishes Shawn with much-desired admiration, all the while goading him into potential oblivion. The clever use of action cameras (i.e. GoPros) marries the YouTuber and found footage motifs effortlessly.
Deadstream is a standout viewing experience, blending some of the worst of the internet with horror to create a truly memorable film. Despite this being the first time the Winters have teamed up to direct, they deliver a frightful and hilariously entertaining critique of contemporary social media culture. For their first feature-length film, Deadstream is an exceptionally strong debut for the Winters and builds anticipation for what they will offer next.
Deadstream is now streaming on Shudder.