“Deadstream” is a genial-enough send-up of “found footage” horror, a gory comedy built around a grating streaming TV stunt host whose latest clickbait is a night spent in a haunted house.
As Shawn Ruddy, host of “Wrath of Shawn” videos on LivVid — sort of a Youtube for live-streamers — star and co-writer/director Joseph Winter tries too hard playing a character who tries too hard. That results in a comedy that pegs the annoying meter from the start but only really strings together laughs in the scrambling, perilous and over-the-top third act.
Shawn, who pitches his show as “facing my fears, one dumbass challenge at a time,” has carried out stunts such as dogsledding in his underwear as a “human popsicle,” baiting cops and climbing into a trashcan to be picked up and dumped (and compacted) in a garbage truck.
But he has just come off a “demonetized” ban from LivVid for crossing one line too many with his hijinks.
For his comeback, he’ll face one fear he’s taken pains to avoid addressing — “ghosts.” He’ll spend a night, with a couple of cameras and his mother’s “paranormal” defense kit — Holy water, garlic, salt, crucifix and silver dagger — in “the most haunted house in the United States,” aka “the most haunted not too famous for me to film in,” a Payson, Utah ruin.
He rolls up in the dark, takes sparkplugs out of his battered pickup to guard against the temptation of making a break for it. Then he busts in, locks himself in to further force him to stay, and confronts whatever’s supposed to be scary about this long-abandoned place he calls “Death Manor,” which has suicides and other deaths attached to it.
He’s live-streaming, and interacting with his viewers as he does. If something suspicious happens, they taunt and force him to “check it out.” They order him to “PROVOKE the spirits.” And they’ll pepper him with comment questions that mock him as he attempts his latest feat.
“Did everybody call you ‘Crater Face’ in High School?” he reads one comment aloud. “No, because it was just acne, then.” He endures “fan-splaining” abuse and, with a hand-held camera and a helmet cam, keeps up a steady patter of Shawn shtick.
“Despite what people say, there ARE further depths I can sink to.”
Every now and then, something shocking happens and he catches himself swearing in fright, followed by a “PLEASE don’t de-monetize me, LivVid!”
The POV camerawork and editing are on the money, the makeup and effects on the “good and cheesy” end of the “good” to “cheesy” spectrum. The horror movies referenced (not by title, because Shawn is no fan of the genre) include classics of the “found footage” genre, with not one homage or staged fright here delivering much more than a jolt, and never a chill.
It’s not scary. At all.
And I have to say, despite a lot of joking around from the start, “Deadstreaming” Winter struggles to find and perform a laugh that lands. It’s all pitched in the same in-your-face/energy-drink hyped pace and volume, which all but beats the “funny” out of a lot of the attempted humor.
Not everybody can do pull off that breathless “Billy on the Street” thing.
Still, as the horrors of the night pile up and our live-streaming hero consults with viewers and finds ways to fight back against the things that go bump in the night, “Deadstreaming” picks up.
It finishes better than it begins, if that’s any consolation.
Rating: unrated, gory violence, profanity
Cast: Joseph Winter, Melanie Stone.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Vanessa Winter and Joseph Winter. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:28