A livestreaming internet personality running afoul of vengeful spirits in real-time reads like a recognizable setup, especially in the found footage category. Deadstream isn’t interested in retreading familiar ground, though. Writers/Directors Vanessa Winter and Joseph Winter eschew expectations and instead deliver a delightfully raucous splatstick horror-comedy that’ll leave the midnight crowd cheering for more.

In addition to co-writing, co-directing, co-editing, producing, and handling the music for Deadstream, Joseph Winter also stars as Shawn. Shawn is a disgraced influencer and online personality trying to recover his follower count and sponsorship after a stunt gone wrong. He attempts to win them back by livestreaming himself spending the night inside an abandoned house with an extensive haunted history. Shawn locks himself inside and tosses the key with prompts from followers to ensure he doesn’t flee. It quickly becomes a fight for survival when he angers a powerful spirit with a follower count of their own.

With Shawn as the sole character alone in a dilapidated house for a large chunk of the runtime, much of Deadstream’s success hinges on Winter’s performance. That’s no small feat considering that Shawn is a deeply flawed, selfish influencer whose past and personality traits could quickly render him an unlikeable lead. Winter never shies away from Shawn’s flaws but uses humor and authentic reactions to endear the messy character to audiences. There’s almost a naïve charm to Shawn that makes you nearly forget about his less savory side. Almost. After all, this is a character desperate to regain monetization for his channel.

Shawn isn’t completely alone, though. In addition to commentary from his viewers, many of who use their knowledge or Google skills to offer up exposition when needed, Shawn receives a reprieve from ghostly terror from crazed fan Chrissy (Melanie Stone). Together the pair humorously demonstrate the pitfalls of online and influencer culture.

Where Deadstream most surprises and impresses, though, is in its approach and escalation of the horror. The paranormal activity begins small, enough to instill rooting interest for its human characters, then ramps up with increasing splatstick energy. It spirals into a gonzo horror-comedy full of bodily fluids, gore, and ghostly creatures that would make Sam Raimi proud. Every bit of the humor lands, too, making for a triumphant crowd-pleaser that hooks you from start to finish.

Deadstream is a DIY labor of love, and the filmmakers somehow make wearing so many hats seem effortless. Through its characters, human and otherwise, the small-scaled story feels larger than life. The story beats may not always surprise, but the clever progression, balance of physical horror and comedy, and the go for broke gags ensure that doesn’t matter. While the destination makes for an apropos punchline, Deadstream is more about the energetic, zany journey. That journey will leave you cringing, cheering, and deep belly laughing in equal measure. It’s even better if you can see it with an eager midnight crowd.

Deadstream made its World Premiere at SXSW.



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