DEADSTREAM, a 2022 American supernatural horror-comedy film, marked the directorial debut of the husband-and-wife team Vanessa and Joseph Winter, who also took on multiple roles such as writing, producing, editing, and acting. Joseph not only directed but also served as the lead actor and composer for the film’s soundtrack.
The storyline revolves around a disgraced content creator’s desperate attempt to revive his career. He embarks on a live-streaming adventure where he spends a night in a notorious haunted house, known as Death Manor. The film cleverly employs a found footage format, immersing viewers in the live stream itself. DEADSTREAM had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 11, 2022, and was later released in the United States on October 6, 2022, through Shudder, receiving positive reviews.
The movie centers on Shawn, a YouTube-type personality whose fame had once thrived on daring stunts aimed at “conquering his fears.” However, prior to the events in the film, Shawn’s career took a nosedive due to a controversial video, resulting in the loss of sponsors and a significant portion of his fanbase. In a last-ditch effort to regain his popularity and retain his sole remaining sponsor, Shawn hatches a plan to live-stream his overnight stay in Death Manor, a house steeped in legend and purported hauntings, where numerous individuals had met untimely deaths.
Under the terms of his sponsorship deal, Shawn must not leave the premises or fail to explore the entire house; otherwise, he forfeits his sponsorship. Throughout the live stream, Shawn periodically engages with his viewers through a chat screen, reacting to their comments. As the live stream commences, Shawn disposes of his car’s sparkplugs in the woods, locks the door behind him, and drops the key down a grate. While setting up his cameras, he narrates the eerie history of Death Manor, a place haunted by the ghost of Mildred Pratt, a wealthy Mormon heiress and aspiring poet who tragically ended her own life following her publisher and lover’s sudden demise. Subsequent occupants of the house met mysterious ends, leading to its abandonment. Shawn speculates that these deaths over the years were manifestations of Mildred’s desire to build a family she never had in life.
Shawn tours the house, introducing each room, including one with no reported paranormal activity, which he designates as the “safe room” where he sets up his equipment. During his exploration, he discovers a peculiar symbol hanging in a closet, removes it, and later destroys it in a fit of panic.
Subsequently, Shawn attempts to provoke the spirits through a séance, leading to strange noises that send him retreating to his room in fear. To his surprise, he finds Chrissy, an enthusiastic fan who has traveled to Death Manor to meet him. Reluctantly, Shawn allows her to stay to please his viewers, although he’s not thrilled to share his spotlight. Together, they continue their investigation of the house, stumbling upon Mildred’s poetry book, which Shawn dismisses as mediocre since “it doesn’t even rhyme.” While trying to communicate with Mildred’s spirit using a spirit board, Chrissy convinces Shawn to recite a Latin phrase aimed at laying the ghosts to rest.
As Chrissy repeatedly attempts to frighten Shawn, he suddenly recalls that he had locked the door to the Manor, implying that Chrissy must have been waiting there for him. He accuses her of being a stalker and orders her to leave. In a shocking turn of events, she attacks him, biting his neck. In self-defense, Shawn stabs her in the neck, believing he has killed her. However, when he later searches for her body in the grate where he had discarded his key, he finds only a box containing a severed finger and a revealing photograph that identifies Chrissy as Mildred Pratt herself.
Astute viewers deduce that the symbol Shawn destroyed earlier was a hamsa, meant for protection against evil. Furthermore, the Latin phrase he recited was an offering for souls, a binding ritual that Mildred had used to connect herself to the souls of the previous inhabitants. Terrifying encounters with grotesque apparitions of these past occupants drive Shawn to make multiple escape attempts, culminating in a daring leap from a second-floor window.
During his escape, Shawn retrieves the discarded spark plugs but encounters more terrifying specters. After fending off one with a potato gun, his iPad is damaged, cutting him off from his viewers. Resigned to his fate, Shawn seeks refuge in his car, where he discovers a book of Mildred’s poetry. Within its pages, he uncovers the incantation that granted Mildred her satanic powers, realizing that the repeated phrases by the ghostly voices are found in one of her poems. Putting together the pieces, Shawn realizes that Mildred never sought a family but an audience for her poetry. This newfound revelation inspires him to complete the ritual that will circumvent her power through his viewers, banishing her back to hell.
Arming himself, Shawn returns to the house to confront Mildred. After a fierce battle, he gains the upper hand and recites the incantation, but it doesn’t work. It’s only when he spots Mildred’s severed finger that he remembers the ritual requires a “sacrifice of flesh.” Shawn courageously cuts off one of his fingers, completing the ritual, which results in Mildred being dragged into a blood-filled basement by an unseen force. Shawn celebrates, thanking his now-massive viewer count for helping him survive the night. However, as he attempts to leave, he finds himself surrounded by Mildred’s remaining ghoul audience, and his live stream abruptly cuts out.
DEADSTREAM is one of those rare movies that is near perfect. It perfectly blends comedy and horror, starting out on the funny end and concluding with sheer terror. The acting is convincing and Joseph Winter, as Shawn, really gets to show his talent, both behind and in front of the camera. The shots are set-up perfectly and you become one of Shawn’s viewers and get sucked into the building tension. Melanie Stone, as Chrissy, is also perfect in her role doing double duty by also playing Mildred. You love her when she first arrives and then become genuinely scared of her. For a first time film, this couple knows what they are doing.
The special effects are also really well done. The ghostly images are goose-bump inducing and the creature effects are top notch. The Stones really know how to capitalize on a small budget. I found myself laughing out loud often and Shawn’s man-screams are the best! The use of viewer comments is hilarious and it really reflects today’s society, with some viewers calling the events fake, telling him to die, and some showing actual concern. The editing is another highlight. Between going back and forth between the two cameras that Shawn is wearing as well as seeing the camera images from different rooms, it’s obvious that a lot of work and planning went into setting up these shots. I cannot recommend DEADSTREAM enough!