By now, we’ve got the message that low-budget horror filmmakers hate Youtube influencers – and related online personalities – quite a bit. Or else think they need to get their influencer-must-suffer-and-die movie out quickly before the zeitgeist moves to something else. It may also be a factor that doing a found footage horror in the style of one of those dumb DIY stunt channels allows for a relative lack of technical polish. Deadstream is fairly solid as a horror rollercoaster once it gets going, but you may well have seen too many variations on this idea by now to be fully engaged.
Whiny, pattering scaredy-cat schlub Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter, who co-wrote and -directed with Vanessa Winter) picked up a following by screeching his way through tasteless stunts like the Baby Moses challenge (going over rapids in a big basket), insulting cops and running away (no African-American vlogger would try this) and being smuggled over the border in the trunk of a coyote car. He’s been on a time-out after a stunt with a homeless guy turned out badly – the details are leaked throughout the film – but hopes for a comeback by facing his biggest fear … ghosts. He drives to an isolated location to spend a night in ‘the most haunted house in America’ – admitting he means one that is accessible to being broken into and isn’t a national monument – and oversells the bridge-burning by taking the spark-plugs out of his car engine and throwing them into the woods and padlocking himself inside a wrecked house which was once the home of suicidal poet Mildred Pratt, which is reputedly haunted by several entities. After a lot of chatter and a few mild jumps, and just when we’re all getting fed up with just listening to Shawn, uberfan Chrissy (Melanie Stone – very funny and, when the mood strikes, scary) shows up inside the locked house, eager to take part in her idol’s livestream.
This is one of those found footage pictures that starts out as if it’s going to be all shadows and twitching sheets and screaming – just like real paranormal investigation tabloid TV – but then segues into something with more impressive physical and digital manifestations. Shawn has something like an arc – though he apologises insincerely so often it’s hard to take his real penitence straight when it comes only after large-scale supernatural persecution – and Winter really crawls into the skin of the character. As in the similar Dashcam, we often get comments scrolling down part of the screen – which allows for MAD Magazine-like marginal gags and also the occasional bit of misdirection. A nice thematic touch is that the ghost poet is as concerned with being pointlessly famous and getting her work before the public as the protagonist is. And the goonish monsters of the house are sweet.