Thankfully, the found footage genre has evolved since the days of Paranormal Activity. With the rapid rise of iPhone cinematography, social media influencers, and a world that livestreams its every move, it’s a different game entirely in 2022. And one that husband-and-wife filmmaking team Vanessa and Joseph Winter crack wide open, in their balls-to-the-wall, mad-as-a-box-of-frogs web chiller Deadstream.
It might be your classic haunted house setting, but the Winters take things to new heights with their set-up. Joseph stars as disgraced YouTuber Shawn Ruddy, a man on a mission to regain his following (and therefore, his sponsorships), and prove to the world that he hasn’t actually been cancelled after all (despite what he did to that homeless man). A pitch-perfect takedown of every internet celeb who’s ever posted an apology video, he’s a man who’s not only stupid enough to livestream himself inside a notoriously creepy old manor where lots of people died, he’ll also padlock the door shut behind him, and throw away the key.
Naturally, ghosts and other creepy shit follows, with Ruddy well-equipped enough to get it all on camera, setting up motion-activated GoPros in every room. As well as strapping a handy iPad gadget to his belt that lets him interact with his many millions of followers as it’s all kicking off, bringing them in on the plot and allowing them to both berate and help him, at every turn.
It’s an insanely creative new spin on what was once found footage and has since morphed into something closer to the screen-life sub-genre, made famous by the likes of Searching, Unfriended and Rob Savage’s 2020 lockdown hit Host. In fact, if Deadstream can be compared to anything, it’s Savage’s own more recent Dashcam, from the real-time livestream idea, to the interactive comments, to the truly reprehensible lead.
But whilst the latter quite often blurred under the weight of trying to maintain the guise of real-life (often literally, with the footage too shaky and unintelligible), Deadstream soars. For one thing, it goes all-in on every found footage faux-pas, right from the off, writing in clever ways to cut naturally between different feeds (including those not in the house), using diegetic score as a running joke, and crafting a lead who, despite being a piece-of-work, is thoroughly entertaining to watch and that you ultimately do find yourself rooting for.
Much of that comes from Joseph Winter’s stellar performance, which starts douchey and only escalates from there, but knows exactly where to thread in the more human moments. But also in just how mental the script gets, particularly when it’s throwing in video-game-esque puzzles for Ruddy and his followers to solve in real-time. Just as those anonymous comments pile in on the screen, covering every flavour of internet nobody (from the “kill yourself”s to the generally well thought out advice), we too, as the audience, feel a part of Ruddy’s inner-circle, for better or worse.
And while some of the shonkier effects, particularly in the film’s final third, do start to tear away at the guise of reality a smidge, it’s impossible not to find yourself along for the ride, with jumps and bumps galore; both Winters always leaning on the comedy pedal for maximum fun, too.
With any luck, and more from Team Winter on the way (they’ve already nabbed a slot in the upcoming V/H/S 99), the days of boring-looking found footage clones are over.
Deadstream screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2022.