Deadstream opened the 13th annual Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival, brought to us by director John Allison and his excellent team of programmers. The film involves an internet personality who does stupid things on camera for laughs. Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter, V/H/S/99) is trying to get back in the good graces of his fan following on social media after he challenged a homeless man to a fight and accidentally won.
Shawn loses a bunch of followers and decides to put up an apology video. When that doesn’t work, Shawn decides to find a haunted house to stay the night in and film the entire thing. Armed with a bunch of cameras and tablets and a laptop, he sets up shop as a paranormal investigator in a place called “Death Manor”.
Deadstream was funny, and it had some great lines. Joseph Winters, who also co-wrote and directed along with Vanessa Winter, is excellent as Shawn, the disgraced internet personality. I didn’t think one person could carry a movie like this until I saw him in the role, but I think the film works with Winters as Shawn. Shawn plays to his fans, arranging cameras, and showing old found footage from other paranormal investigations as he sets up cameras. But amusingly enough, they play right back. “Do the wheel!” one fan types in all caps, urging Shawn to pull out a wheel of options labelled with “Séance, Ouija Board” and a couple of other options.
The movie has a low-budget feel because of its small cast of just a few people, but I don’t think this was a detriment to the film in any way. The outside feedback from Shawn’s filming and his socials really made Winters’ performance that much better and it was a cool way to keep the plot moving, and unpredictable. With the fans on social media watching the other cameras while Winter was busy chewing the scenery, it made the story that much spookier and gave us, the audience, a feeling of dramatic irony. I love that feeling when watching horror movies and it made for some good jump scares.
Social media was handled well in the film. For what the writers made up for naming social media engines, that was fine. Even if some of the text in user comments on the livestream was hard to read. I blame that on my need to wear my glasses. : ) The monikers used on social media were great. I think I saw one that was actually “Moniker”. I especially enjoyed “Kimbucha”. The presentation of Shawn’s computer software was great. I cackled to myself when Shawn pulled the second tablet out of his bag.
Deadstream doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. We’ve seen livestream videos before with stuff like Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break. I only had Paul Dood to compare it to, but Deadstream was still excellent and it kept the laughs coming. It followed familiar story beats but in a salient way so that as a viewer, I could get back to watching my favourite things, jump scares and gross-out gags. There are certainly nods to the first Evil Dead movies, the ones made before Army of Darkness.
Saving the best for last, my absolute favourite part of Deadstream was the practical effects. They were so well done. I absolutely do not want to spoil anything, but it’s all really fun. I mention Evil Dead in this review because that’s what it reminded me of. Without giving away too much, there’s a head in a bathtub, and that was probably my favourite one.
It’s really hard not to give Deadstream an all-star review. The homeless man that Shawn fought was black, so the issue of racism is brought up a few times, but it is never played for laughs.
Strangely enough, the fans who are the most helpful to Shawn, providing information to him during his stay at Death Manor, are people of colour. Sometimes, Winter’s performance as Shawn made me thoughtful rather than amused. Despite its many strengths, the film has some pacing issues. There were parts around the middle after the discovery of Chrissy that could have been tightened up just a little bit.
The development of Shawn’s character was pretty clear and pronounced, and for what was essentially a one-man show for much of Deadstream. I didn’t find it to be onerous as a viewer. It was fun to watch his character flip out at times and ask for forgiveness. Winter brings a certain charm and earnestness to what is a pretty egocentric character at times.
At times, Shawn will trip on his own foreshadowing, but Winter brings enough energy to the performance that it always made me laugh. With Shawn’s clean-cut persona, I felt like I cared about what happened to his character beyond my usual heckling and laughing at people who do dumb things like spend the night in a haunted house and film the entire thing.