Recently, I reviewed a low-budget made-for-streaming horror movie called Shifted. Pretty anemic. Last night I had a chance to watch another low-budget, made-for-streaming horror movie. The compulsion is part of the general malaise of self-loathing. This drives one to passive-aggressively punish their superego, with tedium for daring, to have a moral compass in this age of relative truth.
But you know what? Deadstream was a decent attempt at a movie. Let’s not go crazy and shower it with superlatives. “Adequate” is about as high as we can go with our praise, so let’s fly with the penguins and examine a little movie that dared to pluck “tolerable” off the tree and put it in its pocket.
CROSS THE DEADSTREAMS
Just when you thought found-footage horror movies went the way of the dodo bird, along comes Deadstream. Its story concerns a fallen YouTube star known for his wacky stunts, such as boarding an inflatable boat, with a pacifier in his mouth, and reenacting the Baby Moses story on a rough river. One day he goes too far with his schtick and loses his sponsors and fans. He comes up with the bright idea to win them back by spending the night in a haunted house. Basically, it is an update of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
Deadstream is a horror/comedy written by husband-and-wife team Joseph and Vanessa Winter and directed by husband-and-wife team Joseph and Vanessa Winter. It doesn’t complete the hattrick by starring husband-and-wife team Joseph and Vanessa Winter, but it does star the Joseph side of the equation, along with Melanie Stone and a brief smattering of other folks.
Real talk — the first act of Deadstream tempts one to shut it off. It reaches for funny but doesn’t get there. Joseph’s character is more tedious than humorous. The whole affair has the air of people who had a camera and an abandoned house and a dream to make a buck with minimal investment. Furthermore, Joseph doesn’t have the vocal timbre to make his Homer Simpson scream ring true.
Yet, Deadstream practices something modern movies seem to forget as they assault the senses from minute one. Deadstream builds as it goes along. It doesn’t have the budget or production to build a structure akin to the Great Pyramids, but it at least builds a shanty Tom Joad could survive in.
A good chunk of a horror movie’s effectiveness is built on how shots are crafted and edited. The right amount of suspense, anticipation, and tension needs to be built up before the scare is dropped into the mix. A variety of ways exists to go about this. You could go the Jaws route and have a ripping opening that sets the audience up to be toyed with for the rest of the movie. You could drop in jump scares that are either fake (cats) or real (beasties/slashers). If you were of the elegant bent, you could create a subtle atmosphere of foreboding with angles, shadows, and character work.
Deadstream makes a token stab at establishing atmosphere and uses straight jump scares within a found-footage format. Joseph and Vanessa neatly step around whatever limitations found-footage films have in the shot variety by using a multiple-camera framework. While setting up the situation, Joseph’s character explores the house and installs cameras in all of its rooms. He also has a camera on his face and a POV camera that he can switch between by shaking a smart bracelet. This gives Deadstream the coverage to at least try to be scary when necessary.
Joseph’s character livestreams throughout the film. This injects a dash of humor into the proceedings as we read viewer comments and listen to Joseph’s thought process. The livestream also enables viewers to chime in with helpful plot advice, as needed.
These elements come together pretty well under less-than-ideal circumstances. With only one location and limited plot, Deadstream builds what it can as Joseph unravels the story of the house and its Emily Dickenson-inspired ghost. Joseph’s strategy to beat the ghost is based on his work as a YouTuber, and he even has a John Carpenter-influenced mix tape to provide a soundtrack for his journey.
DEADSTREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Deadstream does not reinvent the wheel as it rolls down well-worn paths. It clearly has Evil Dead in its DNA and filters diluted Raimi through its gimmick. One thing Deadstream has in its favor is its insistence on practical effects. It uses minimal CGI for beasties.
One thing Deadstream does not have in its favor is its ending. It ends like every horror movie ends nowadays, which is a pity. You begrudgingly start to care about Joseph’s character as the runtime ticks toward 90 minutes. Throughout the film, Deadstream flirts with being clever. It could have proved itself such with an ending that sees Joseph’s character victorious in an appropriately goofy way. I loathe the fact that horror filmmakers seem to have forgotten that it is okay for the Final Girl, or Final Guy in this case, to overcome the challenge. I am not against ambiguous or downer endings, but they used to be used sparingly. Now they are as cliché as it gets.
With Deadstream incorporating modern trends of social media in its storytelling, does it have anything to say on the subject? It contains some commentary on how certain folks will do anything to get their modicum of fame, up to and including displaying their destruction of themselves on video platforms. I can think of a couple of YouTubers following this course, but I won’t mention their names. While they might be cynically clever in their use of humanity’s tendency to watch trainwrecks, they are still morons for monetizing their deteriorating health.
Yet, influencers would not have any influence if it wasn’t for the people who watch them, and the comments of the watchers can be equally illuminating about human nature. Some want to lurk, some want to build, some want to learn, some want to tear down and some want to see blood.
In the end, I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Social media provides the opportunity to test worldviews and puts massive amounts of knowledge at one’s fingertips that can be implemented to improve life. Surely, I’ve learned more from the Internet than I did in school.
Whether Deadstream rates good or bad, it brought us here today. Ideas were exchanged. Laughs were had, and we got through another day of being productive members of society with movies as a pressure-release valve. I suppose that makes us the real heroes. Like the character in Deadstream, we explore the haunted house called life. We face the monsters in the closet that are money problems, family problems, illness and more and come up with solutions to stave off chaos. We don’t even do it for the subscribers. For most of us, the only one tuning in is God.
Meanwhile, this video gets 324,000 views. I can’t be mad, though. It probably deserves more.
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