SXSW Film Review: Deadstream

Horror-comedy that gets the laugh/scream ratio right


If I am known for anything as a horror critic, it is my unflagging apathy towards horror-comedies. With a few notable exceptions – films like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil are too wonderful for even me to ignore – I find that most films cannot sustain the horror-comedy ratio for a full 90-minute runtime.

This results in movies that either run low on humor, run low on horror, or – more often than not – run low on both. For most filmmakers, mixing comedy and scares is a cinematic death sentence.

So I was as surprised as anyone to find that Deadstream, the low-budget film from the filmmaking duo of Vanessa and Joseph Winter, is an absolute delight. In Deadstream, we meet influencer and second-tier streamer Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter), who – after being demonetized for a YouTube stunt gone wrong – decides to celebrate his return with an overnight stay at a nearby haunted house. But as Ruddy’s audience goads him into reckless appeals to the spirits, he soon comes face-to-face with the vengeful ghosts who call the mansion home.

As a blend of found footage and screenlife filmmaking – our perspective often bounces between the cameras Ruddy wears and the mobile streaming platform he uses to connect with his audience – Deadstream carves out a unique visual language for itself. It’s a surprisingly bright film, foregoing the grainy, early-digital aesthetic of most found footage in favor of high-definition scares. This helps keep the energy level up throughout the movie; there is never any tension between the gags and the visuals, and Ruddy’s antics always pop.

Given the use of physical comedy and deadite-inspired creature design, Deadstream will earn endless comparisons to the Evil Dead franchise. But the true brilliance of the film – and what earns it serious consideration as an Evil Dead successor – is the character of Shawn Ruddy. Ruddy is a much trickier character than he initially appears: a charismatic, confident idiot who we nevertheless root against from the opening frame. Like Bruce Campbell before him, Joseph Winter makes Ruddy someone who deserves everything coming to him while still maintaining a boyish charm.

That’s a tricky bit of writing, but one that Vanessa and Joseph Winter tackle with absolute confidence. And because the character of Ruddy works, everything else locks neatly into place. The running jokes with the cameras; the increasingly hostile streaming audience; the frequent pratfalls and physical comedy. Deadstream sustains its gags as well – if not better – than any horror-comedies from the past decade, and that energy flows from the idiot that the Winters have created.

It is no surprise that the team at Shudder was quick to acquire Deadstream – the film slots nicely alongside Host and One Cut of the Dead, no-budget horror films whose effort and love of the genre are etched onto every frame. If Vanessa and Joseph Winter are a sign of the things to come for the horror-comedy, then perhaps it is time for me to rethink my approach to the subgenre.

Don't miss our interview with the filmmakers about making a screenlife horror comedy, and their love of the House movies, "The Winters go Live in the Deadstream," March 11.


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