SXSW 2022: Deadstream

Directed by: Vanessa and Joseph Winter
Distributed by: Shudder

Written by Anna Harrison


Logan Paul, wannabe boxer and, for whatever reason, successful YouTuber, is perhaps most known to the public as that guy who showed a corpse in a “suicide forest” in Japan on his YouTube channel. He also, on that same trip, did other tasteful things such as climbing onto a moving forklift, getting into fights, and throwing Poké Balls at Japanese citizens—in short, it’s best to try and forget his existence. Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter) of “Deadstream” is clearly made in the mold of YouTubers and streamers like Paul: he does stupid things for views, and when those stupid things get other people hurt, he has to atone for his sins by uploading a long apology video and acting like a changed man when, in reality, he’s still the same guy who landed a homeless man in the hospital and got smuggled across the Mexican border for a laugh. He’s just said “sorry.”

Having switched over from YouTube to a Twitch-like service called LivVid, Shawn is desperate to reclaim his internet fame, and so he decides to spend the night in a haunted house where the specter of lonely 19th century poet Mildred Pratt resides. This, of course, is a terrible idea, but Shawn’s livelihood depends on his terrible ideas—besides, Shawn’s new sponsorship with a White Claw ripoff is contingent on him spending the night at this house. The audience knows Shawn is screwed, and the fun of “Deadstream” doesn’t come from how exactly Shawn gets screwed, but the format through which this is all presented.

“Deadstream” isn’t the first to do horror as a livestream (“Dashcam” came out only a few months ago), but its embrace of the format and smart acknowledgement of its limitations make it more than its gimmick. Shawn sets up cameras throughout the house to capture any ghostly activity and has not only a camera on his forehead, but his wrist as well; using some fancy technology on his iPad, he can cut between the various angles, and cinematographer Jared Cook uses this to his full advantage, getting creative between the low budget limitations. In fact, “Deadstream”’s limited budget forces its entire team to get creative, and they make the most of it. The monsters from Troy Larson and makeup by Mikaela Kester are astonishingly frightening for such a small budget, and they are deployed sparingly but with great effect. 

Winter and his wife, Vanessa, who serve as co-directors, find great glee at Shawn’s expense, especially in the LivVid chat, which alternates between roasting Shawn for being scared and telling him to get the hell out of that house. Even though we mostly laugh at Shawn instead of with him, the Winters don’t forget to let him be a little sympathetic, though, as the denizens of the haunted house force him to confront his desperate need for attention and the fleeting, toxic nature of internet fame; Winter does an excellent job of walking the line between pathetic and repulsive, a good talent to have when he has precious little face-to-face interaction with other people. 

None of what transpires in “Deadstream” may be particularly groundbreaking, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless, and one of tremendous hard work. As ways to pass an evening go, there are far worse things to do, as Shawn soon learns.

“Deadstream” was screened at the 2022 edition of SXSW.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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