★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Vanessa Winter and Joseph Winter
Horror comedy is a tricky bit of business. Too far in either direction can produce blood-curdling, or alternatively, cringe-inducing results. While it’s pure joy to dabble in both, sometimes films need to pick a figurative lane.
In 2022’s Deadstream directors Vanessa Winter and Joseph Winter seem awfully torn between these two competing and symbiotic universes. While Deadstream is cram-packed with some gut-busting gags, it also presents as a cheap haunted house with every single horror cliche that they could jam into 87 minutes. Except for chainsaws. There were no chainsaws.
Deadstream follows self-styled wuss and full-time internet celebrity, Shawn Ruddy (played by director Joseph Winter). In his wildly successful vidcast, The Wrath of Shawn, he takes hyper-inappropriate dares from his fanbase and goes forth to concur with his squeamish phobias. The problem is that Shawn is afraid of everything and he has little to no filters or good judgment. Shawn takes things a bit too far in a prank involving a homeless person and is banned from every possible platform except for LividTV.
In an attempt to regain followers, subscribers, likes, and keep his fragile ego intact, he takes on a dare to spend the night in the most haunted house in America. Fueled by his dodgy sponsor, Thunder Energy Drink, Shawn loudly apologizes to himself and his sponsor that he can only take on half a can of Thunder and that “I’m sure it’s good for you if you’re 18.”
Shawn is a moderately likable character that punctuates every scene with dad joke after dad joke. Some land, but others sound as if they’re being delivered by, well, your dad. Things like “Judas Priest look at that thing!”, “It smells like dead feet down here”, and “Barbed wire, or as my mom used to call it, Bob wire” are all on display for the audience to sort through and determine what resonates.
As he begins to peel back the intricate layers of the house — through the help of his viewer contrived “wheel of stupid things” — he discovers that the house is haunted by a woman named Mildred who killed herself in the house. Mildred was something of a poet and a romantic and only wanted love. Sadly love was not in the cards for her and suicide was the only way out.
As he continues to look for the “paranormal G-spot in the house” he begins to encounter bumps, thumps, creaks, and moans. His constantly running dad-joke commentary is frighteningly interrupted by a young woman named Crissy (Melanie Stone) who oddly shows up at the house and insists that she is one of Shawn’s biggest fans.
While Shawn begins to sort through Crissy’s actual provenance, his merciless, but supportive followers ping him in realtime with hysterical missives: “Get this guy a litterbox he’s a scaredy-cat.”, “#TeamCrissy” “Sign this change.org petition for Shawn to stop being a pussy.” The laughs are definitely there, but more often than not they don’t come from Shawn himself.
Shawn eventually discovers that he may have been possessed in his quest to stay the night in America’s most haunted house, but quickly deduces that the she-demon in the house has fallen prey to his same internet hubris — the unending need for subscribers/followers, or in this case, souls to possess! Shawn moves from a digital approach to an analog one, or at least an ethereal one, and decides that it’s high time to “de-monetize this bitch.”
The last act of Deadsteam plays like a clumsy version of Evil Dead II. However, where Evil Dead II put the horror in the front of the film and the comedy at the back end, Deadstream really does the opposite. It’s not that either the horror or the comedy don’t work, but rather the sequence in which they are disclosed makes both a little tepid.
Deadstream is a fun time. Replete with a beef stick that is duct-taped to a GoPro and ceremoniously named “Beef Cam”, the film has a lot going for it. Had Deadstream threaded the comedy/horror needle a pinch more carefully it could have been uttered in the same breath as 2019’s Extra Ordinary, or at the very least Scary Movie.
Deadstream premiered at SXSW and is not yet rated. It would likely be rated R for crude pratfalls, light gore, and violence.