In the age of streaming and the never-ending flow of content that’s direct-to-VOD, it may seem like original horror stories are becoming a rare breed. How many movies can they make about creepy dolls or kids? Is this another slasher set at a summer camp? More Stephen King adaptations? Sure, Color Out of Space was awesome, but wasn’t it super similar to Annihilation? And isn’t Midsommar just a 2019 re-mix of The Wicker Man (1973)?
When movies are made to fit into specific subgenres or molds, they often feel like they’re retreading similar ground. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t blame filmmakers for being inspired by other filmmakers, but modern cinema is becoming too incestual.
Take a look at a film like Joker (2019), for instance. Director Todd Phillips was clearly inspired by the work of Martin Scorsese in films like Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1982). Obviously, people can draw inspiration from wherever they like, but, in regard to Joker, it feels derivative rather than the next step forward in a specific subgenre—in this case, the American New Wave that explored the dirty underbelly of society in a more realistic manner throughout the 70s. You can see a similar derivative effect in J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 (2011) which harkened back to the early films of Steven Spielberg.
In essence, this incestual style of filmmaking is becoming boring. For audiences that are more and more steeped in cinematic history—due to the sheer availability of classic films on streaming platforms—filmmakers need to take their “inspiration” to a new level. They need to take what someone has done before, put it in a blender, and mix it up until it’s practically unrecognizable. For example, take a look at a film like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2016). Garland took inspiration from science fictions films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Altered States (1980), but the end result doesn’t look similar in execution; Ex Machina stands on its own two feet.
So, when a film comes along that’s striving to be different, that’s pushing storytelling techniques in new directions, and isn’t afraid to test your attention span (in the best possible way), we should all take notice.
Livescream (2018)—which was released to VOD in January 2020—is that kind of film. Is it perfect? No. Is it original? Yes. Is it worth your time and money? 100%.
In Livescream, a popular video game streamer, Scott, played to absolute perfection by Gunner Willis, is mysteriously given an indie horror video game from an anonymous fan. But as soon as he starts playing, he realizes that there are serious, real-life consequences to his in-game actions. Will Scott and his followers make it out alive? He’ll have to play to find out.
The concept is simple and may sound similar to Unfriended (2014) in some regards, but the execution is completely different. Once Scott’s stream begins, there are no edits to his feed or switching to other people’s point of view shots; he’s the lone speaking character that we see onscreen. Livescream is made to look like an actual gaming feed that you see on platforms like Twitch. The only other characters in the film are avatars for Scott’s followers that comment in the chatroom as he plays.
Willis is onscreen for the near entirety of Livescream and he crushes the Twitch-style gamer speak while hitting the emotional peaks and valleys that his performance requires. In moments where the script doesn’t completely support the plot—which are few and far between—his acting keeps you on board, eagerly waiting to see what happens next.
Livescream was written and directed by Michelle Iannantuono. For an independent film of this scale, the challenges presented to a first-time feature director must have been monumental, but Iannantuono hits it out of the park. While the camera doesn’t move, the masterful combination of elements—music, video game graphics, dialogue, and acting—is beautiful to behold. It feels like these events are playing out in real time.
After the first victim is claimed, you do have to suspend your disbelief in regard to why these characters would continue playing. The game comes to natural stopping points where Scott chooses to continue or not, and it seems like these moments could be better spent calling the police. I was able to look past them, as it is the gimmick of the movie, but it may be harder for some audience members to overlook.
I need to give a special shout out to music composer Austin Butts who crafted a catchy and simultaneously eerie soundtrack of 8-bit, late-80s sounding video game tracks. You can listen to the original soundtrack here. The title track is definitely a bop.
Overall, Livescream is tense, a little scary, and, most importantly, unique. I’d much rather have 1,000 films that mostly succeed at trying something new, rather than one more prequel, sequel, or reimagining of a pre-existing property. If you feel the same, give Livescream a shot.