I’ll be blunt in that the found footage horror genre is an overused genre. It was over and done with after the success of The Blair Witch Project. That’s why it mostly remained dormant for almost a decade until Paranormal Activity. Many filmmakers in the late 1980s and 1990s had already used the home video POV shots somewhere in their movies. Quentin Tarantino cut a scene out of Pulp Fiction in which Uma Thurman’s character interviews John Travolta’s character before they head to Jack Rabbit Slims. Tarantino said he cut it because too many filmmakers were doing it and in a narcissistic way added that they were trying to sound like him.
I want you all to remember that QT/Pulp Fiction reference later as I discuss Deadstream, a B-movie horror/comedy about a disgraced live streaming influencer spending a night in a haunted house. Joseph Winter, who co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed the movie with his wife, Vanessa, plays Shawn Ruddy, a rather obnoxious internet personality who is a obviously modeled after Logan Paul and Johnny Knoxville. He had a show called Wrath of Shawn, which had him doing dangerous and foolish stunts, for his own fame.
We find out that there was a prior incident involving a homeless man who was hospitalized. This is obviously a reference to the Bum Fights series. We never really hear what Shawn did but he mentions the man signed a waiver and was bigger than he. My guess is that an accident happen or the man was in poorer health than he said and Shawn was held responsible. He says he was acquitted.
However, Shawn lost all his sponsorship. However, he has gained one, who produces energy drinks. For his triumphant return, he will spend one night in the infamous Death Manor, an isolated, dilapidated mansion. The house is reported for having many deaths associated with it and Shawn makes an offer to spend one night in the house or lose his sponsorship. We see snippets of other footage from ghost hunters about the house. The house is believed to be haunted by the spirit of Mildred Pratt, daughter of a wealthy Mormon man who was also an aspiring poet. She committed suicide after the sudden death of her love. The subsequent deaths in the mansion are believed to be caused by Mildred wanting to create a family she never had.
From the start, the Winters are obviously going after everything from wrong with the Internet age. Fifteen years ago, you could watch something on YouTube no problem, but even if you have the premium, people still plug their sponsors in their videos. At first, we don’t care much for Shawn as he comes across as greedy, self-centered jerk. He doesn’t believe for one minute that the house is haunted and even goes around mocking items he finds in the house including one we discover later is a hamsa which was left there to ward off evil spirits. And for a while, some viewers might want to turn the movie off but it’s shot in a way where we can see there’s something definitely going on at the house.
Eventually, Shawn runs into a “fan” called herself Chrissy (Melanie Stone) who claims she was able to track him down. While skeptical at first, Shawn asks his viewers if Chrissy should stay and they are mostly in favor. However, things don’t seem right with Christy after a while. Not to give too much away, but she is more connected with the Death Manor than Shawn knows. And this puts Shawn in a situation where he becomes more sympathetic.
Essentially, the second half of the movie involves Shawn being chased around the house and the exterior as he is haunted by something. At one point, he’s wearing nothing but his whitey-tighties from the waist below as he’s got the camera harness all over his upper body. There’s something comical about this. There’s even some clever gross-out comedy in the vein of Evil Dead 2 at some levels. It’s obvious judging for the special effects and make-up the Winters are at least inspired by Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies and the end credits are done in a fashion similar to fonts used at the end of Pulp Fiction.
And in an ode to The Blair Witch Project, the movie begins with a title card telling us that the incident happened in October of 2022 and Shawn went missing. A year later, his footage was found after he went missing. Yet, since he’s livestreaming, everyone is seeing it. This creates a problem because it immediately tells us something is about to happen to Shawn, so that ruins the element of surprise in some way.
Clocking in just under an hour and a half, some scenes seem redundant and only there to pad out the time. The movie could’ve very easily been 75-80 minutes and been more effective. But a movie that spends most of its run time in an old mansion, they build on a good sense of claustrophia. And since we are living in the Internet age, there are some commenters who aren’t even taking it seriously. And I like that the Winters realize that young people are smarter and they’re sending Shawn videos on stuff they’ve seen in the house.
Deadstream isn’t the last of its kind. With the Paranormal Activity franchise, there is also the V/H/S franchise, which the Winters have a segment in the upcoming V/H/S 99. They do show great potential as a filmmaking couple and it would be nice to see them do a horror/thriller in a different format. Hopefully, they’ll be given the opportunity.
What do you think? Please comment.