Deadstream, film festivals, horror, Joseph Winter, Melanie Stone, movies, reviews, Shudder, South by Southwest, SXSW, SXSW Film Festival, TV, Utah, Vanessa Winter
March 13, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Utah, the horror movie “Deadstream” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A controversial Internet prankster does a livestream event from a haunted house, and he experiences unexpected terror.
Culture Audience: “Deadstream” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching poorly made horror movies with an extremely annoying main character.
“Deadstream” is dead on arrival with its bungled attempt at taking the over-used concept of a haunted house and blending it with the tech concept of Internet livestreaming. It’s the type of idiotic horror flick where the obnoxious main character hides in a van to avoid being killed by an attacker, but then he keeps screaming loudly, thereby exposing his hiding place. In fact, throughout this movie, viewers will wish that the dimwitted, motormouth main character of “Deadstream” would just shut up and go away.
Written and directed by husband-and-wife duo Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter, “Deadstream” could have been a better movie on so many levels. The movie’s plot—horror during a livestream, set in one location—is not completely original but it has a lot of potential for some genuine scares and compelling characters. Unfortunately, “Deadstream” is ruined by a whiny-voiced protagonist whose non-stop annoying chatter is the equivalent of verbal diarrhea.
It’s one of those movies where you can immediately tell, without even looking at the film credits, that the irritating and off-putting main character is the movie’s director. How can you tell? Because the acting is horrible, and everything about this character (and this movie) is extremely self-indulgent with no real self-awareness of how bad everything is, which is usually a sign that if the director is an actor, then he cast himself as the star of the movie.
Unfortunately, in “Deadstream,” viewers are stuck with this insufferable main character, who is in every scene of this dull, unimaginative and sloppily made film. His name is Shawn Ruddy (played by Joseph Winter), a Utah-based cretin who makes his living as a controversial Internet personality. Shawn, who is in his 30s, films himself doing extreme pranks and stunts, and he puts those videos online.
Shawn’s entire act is to do things where he says he’s facing his greatest fears. “Deadstream” is filmed almost entirely as if it’s a livestream of what happens to Shawn in the movie. Although “Deadstream” takes place in an unnamed city in Utah, the movie was actually filmed in Spanish Fork, Utah. “Deadstream” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.
What Shawn has done in his quest for more Internet fame has gotten him banned and/or de-monetized from several social media platforms. Some of his pranks and stunts include intentionally provoking a police officer (there’s brief flashback footage of Shawn picking a fight with a cop in uniform and being chased by the cop), as well as some other tacky and dumb things that aren’t shown in the movie but are mentioned, such as smuggling himself across the U.S./Mexico border, so he could ridicule undocumented Mexican immigrants. Another of Shawn’s controversial stunts was paying a homeless man to fight Shawn, and then beating up the homeless man.
The movie obviously wants to be a spoof of the real-life Internet jerks who do these tasteless and often-illegal stunts, but the comedy in “Deadstream” falls very flat. The biggest problem with this movie’s failed attempt at satire is that “Deadstream” has nothing clever or funny to say about this subculture of people who seek fame and fortune on the Internet by putting themselves and other people in harm’s way. The beginning of the movie shows Shawn trying to redeem himself by announcing to his audience that he will do a stunt where he won’t hurt other people.
Shawn is now livestreaming on a website called Livid.tv, which is one of the last places on the Internet that will host his shenanigans. It’s never mentioned in the movie how many Internet followers Shawn has, but he has a devoted group of people who still want to see his mindless antics. Shawn announces to his audience one day: “I’m mortally terrified of ghosts. For my next livestream event, I will be spending one night alone in a haunted house.”
An unnamed sponsor is paying Shawn to do this livestream. Under the terms of the sponsor contract, Shawn has to be the only person in the house during this livestream. And if he sees or hears anything unusual, he has to check it out. If he breaks these rules, he won’t get paid. However, one of these rules gets broken, in order to service what happens in most of the movie.
The first third of “Deadstream” is a monotonous slog of Shawn talking on camera while he’s in the haunted house, explaining the house’s history, and showing viewers each room in the house. In between, he makes wisecracks that aren’t funny at all. The small, abandoned house, which is nicknamed Death Manor, is in an isolated wooded area. The house is dirty, damaged, and has been boarded up since the 1950s.
When Shawn first arrives at Death Manor (which he calls “the most haunted house in the world”), he shows his livestream audience that he’s serious about not leaving in case he gets scared. On camera, he removes his car’s spark plugs and throws them into the woods. The history of Death Manor is that it was built in 1880 by a wealthy Mormon pioneer, who built the house for his adult daughter named Mildred Pratt, who was a poet and a social outcast.
As a young woman, Mildred had a long-distance love affair with a book publisher named Lars Jorgensen, who was based in Boston. Lars proposed marriage to Mildred, and she accepted his proposal. But tragically, two days before Mildred was going to travel to Boston to be with Lars, he died in an accident. Distraught over Lars’ death, Mildred committed suicide in the house. Over the years, several other people, including five children, have mysteriously died in the house, with the legend being that Mildred is the ghost who’s haunting the house and causing these deaths.
One of the men who died in the house wrote about a recurring dream of seeing a ghost in the house, with the ghost saying, “The pond water is still.” The movie wastes some time with Shawn showing his audience some archival clips of paranormal investigators who spent time in the house. None of this is really spoiler information, because most of the movie’s “horror” is about whether or not Shawn will encounter Mildred or other ghosts.
One of this livestream event’s rules is broken when a woman in her 20s named Chrissy (played by Melanie Stone) unexpectedly shows up and says that she’s a major fan of Shawn, and she wants to hang out with him at this house and possibly help him. Shawn wants Chrissy to leave because his sponsor contract says that he has to spend the night alone in the house. However, several viewers demand that Chrissy stay in the house because they think she looks sexy.
Shawn takes a viewer vote over whether or not Chrissy can stay in the haunted house with him, and the vast majority of viewers vote for Chrissy to stay. Shawn says on camera that the sponsor can make an exception to the rule since Chrissy being in the house is what the majority of Shawn’s audience wanted. Chrissy is very much a fawning “fangirl” who seems to have a big crush on Shawn. Some of the viewers commenting online also notice that Chrissy is a lot braver than Shawn in this haunted house. Of course, this wouldn’t be a horror movie if things didn’t go terribly wrong, and some dangerous madness ensues.
One of the missed opportunities in “Deadstream” is how inconsistently it shows Shawn’s engagement with his live audience. There are some viewer comments shown on screen, and Shawn occasionally responds directly to some of these comments. But then, there are other scenes where the comments should be on the computer screen, but they’re not. Some of the comments say exactly what “Deadstream” viewers will be thinking, when they talk about how boring everything is.
Shawn wears or holds a camera that can show the audience what he’s seeing. He also wears a helmet with built-in flashlight, since the house has no electricity or other lighting. In addition to having a computer tablet and a laptop computer, Shawn has a camera with a ‘”selfie” angle. Expect to see a lot of close-ups of Shawn’s face in “Deadstream,” which has many scenes that were obviously inspired other horror movies about people who film themselves during a ghost investigation, such as 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” and 2009’s “Paranormal Activity.”
Shawn does a lot of talking at the camera, but he’s so self-absorbed that he doesn’t interact with the audience as much as he should, even though audience interaction is one of the main purposes of a livestream. When a lot of the mayhem starts, Shawn is obviously preoccupied with what’s in front of him, but “Deadstream” doesn’t really show a lot of live-reaction terrified comments from people in Shawn’s audience, who are supposed to be witnessing the horror in real time.
Instead, there are parts of the movie where Shawn occasionally logs on to video messages to get advice or knowledge from people in the audience. These parts of the movie look awkward and don’t transition well in the already-erratic flow of the story. There are parts of the movie involving poems and spell chants that are very bottom-of-the-barrel silly with no creativity.
In fact, there are huge sections of “Deadstream” that seem to want viewers to forget that everything is happening in front of people in a live audience. That’s because the movie clumsily handles the scenes where Shawn repeatedly screams for help. Shawn apparently didn’t bring a phone with him. And even if he did, it’s unlikely he would get a signal, because that hindrance is typical in horror movies with people stuck in isolated areas.
One of the movie’s biggest plot holes is that it never explains where Shawn is getting his WiFi service in this remote, wooded area and in an abandoned house with no electricity. Because of this plot hole, the entire concept of the movie falls apart. “Deadstream” comes across as a movie where the filmmakers think viewers are too stupid to see this obvious plot hole.
Sometimes, plot holes can be overlooked in a horror movie if it really delivers on some genuinely scary moments. Unfortunately, “Deadstream” falls short of this basic standard. The movie has too much of Shawn’s incessant yakking, moronic shrieking and self-centered posturing, but not enough action, which doesn’t really kick in until the last third of the film. The visual effects and makeup for the supernatural entities are creepy, but not terrifying. “Deadstream,” much like its dreadful main character, ultimately wears out its welcome long before the movie is over.
Shudder will premiere “Deadstream” on October 6, 2022.