SHF2024: Livescreamers, A Biased Review

Image Courtesy of Salem Horror Fest

Aimlessly scrolling through Prime video, desperate for something to take my mind off the ongoing pandemic that halted society and hijacked the news, the graphic design of a bloodstained video game controller dripping into a pool as it hovered above a pixelated title caused me to pause. That was the one. With the clever title Livescream and a conceptually provoking plot about a gamer playing a haunted game, I didn’t think twice and pushed purchase. A breezy seventy minutes later, I stuck a few musings on Letterboxd, saying it was fun and original, and thought that was a wrap. That is until I received an email in February of 2022 from the film’s director telling me about her plans for a sequel: Livescreamers.

Poster for Livescreamers shows the cast in a v formation above a bloody controller.

As I said in the title, this is a biased review, and I want to explain. So, before I really dive into that, here’s a little background. I love movies. Hell, if you’re reading this, you probably do too. I consume more film than anyone I know, except maybe JP Nunez. That guy’s a cinemaniac, too. Somedays, I can watch five or six films while I write these reviews or recuperate on the couch from a tumultuous week at work. I’ve sold more DVDs and Blu-rays from my collection than most people have ever owned, and my basement still looks like a veritable Blockbuster Video.

About ten years ago, I started to feel the stress of getting older and decided I wanted to go beyond the sheer elation of discovering and adding films to my personal collection. I wanted to be a part of them in some way. I began looking at Kickstarter campaigns and researching other ways to get involved. Since that time, I’ve become a film reviewer, a podcaster, a producer, a videographer, an extra, a supporting actor, and a champion of indie filmmaking.

When I received Director Michelle Iannantuono’s email, I was elated. I did a full review for Livescream, we planned an interview to get the word out about her Indiegogo for Livescreamers, and I was fueling it on my Instagram account as much as I could. After speaking with Iannantuono, I decided to become a co-producer. On concept alone, she sold me, but more than that, I was utterly captivated by the film’s director, and how could I not be? I had spent time with the filmmaker’s back catalog before the interview. I witnessed the silliness of a Blair Toaster, then saw her conviction to fight back against the homophobic rantings of David Cage by taking his video game Detroit: Become Human and building a love story from two of its characters for Detroit: Evolution. I became an instant fan.

Livescreamers evolves the plot of Livescream, exchanging loner Scott (Gunner Willis) for a group of professional streamers led by Halloween Kills’ Michael Smallwood. Since how people play games has changed, the game has also evolved. The group is introduced to the diegetic game House of Souls, an indie development in beta testing that the Janus gamers are supposedly trying out. The film is presented in screenlife format, like a well-cut Twitch stream, switching between the players’ feeds whenever one of them starts talking or finds something interesting as they enter and search a Resident Evil-looking mansion. It doesn’t take very long before Livescreamers starts amassing a body count. Every room entered is filled with mini-game-style puzzles designed to psychologically overwhelm the players and force them to reveal hidden secrets.

Unlike the video game horror plot you’ve probably seen dozens of times, Livescreamers isn’t the run-of-the-mill throwaway video game treading old ground. I’ve seen some reviews online comparing it to the 2006 film Stay Alive. While I understand the comparison from a supernatural aspect, Livescreamers is so much more than the sum of that statement. First off, Stay Alive isn’t a great movie. Still, it may not be as bad as the critics of the time make it out to be. Around the same time the film was released, Roger Ebert said, “Video games can never be art,” and that limited statement may have had an effect. Cinema was also receiving an influx of video game films, such as House of the Dead, Silent Hill, and Resident Evil, and the pipeline had Hitman and Max Payne adaptations in it. Ebert later clarified and issued an apology for the comment in 2010.

Plus, a lot has happened since 2006. Not only have games become works of art, but the adaptation pool is also producing works of art with series like Fallout and The Last of Us. The landscape of gaming and gamer culture has changed significantly, as well. Friends rarely gather in the same room to play a game locally, and there’s an entire video game population ready twenty-four hours a day, though many of them can be vitriolic and toxic. When you combine that social concept with the power of celebrity and the desperation to hold onto those fifteen minutes for as long as possible, you have something special. That is what’s at the heart of Livescreamers.

While I still regard Stay Alive as a B-movie treasure in its own right, it doesn’t even come close to touching the thematic importance of a film like Livescreamers. Still, it sets the stage for a movie like Livescreamers to be successful. Stay Alive walked so Livescreamers could run. At ninety speedy minutes, Livescreamers not only drives its point home but also makes it entertaining, blood-soaked, and engaging. As Janus Gaming’s secrets are revealed, we feel as betrayed and disappointed by people we only met moments ago as we do by the household heroes who seemingly let us down daily. And that is what fantastic character and world-building can do.

I know it’s a biased review, but Michelle Iannanuoto is a fantastic writer. She continues to find hooks that dig in deep and tear us apart like it’s an art form. Between the social commentary, quick quips, and thematically robust material in the writing, her unfathomable talents in editing, punk rock director skills, and her tireless efforts in building a gaming world from scratch in Unreal Engine. Simply put, Iannantuono has blown away all my expectations on the production end.

And her cast is utterly fantastic as well. Smallwood fulfills the Livescreamers lead role effortlessly, while MJ Slide has star potential in their role as Dice. Evan Michael Pearce and Christian Trindade work well as comic relief, while Neoma Sanchez brings gravity to her supporting role. And, though I have to cut it off there, that doesn’t do this ensemble the justice it deserves. The acting works as well as it does because all of these characters have such good chemistry with each other. This is the type of hip, clever, and charismatic cast that made Scream work so well.

A man looks exasperated sitting at a desk and holding his temples in LIVESCREAMERS

With my final thoughts, I appeal to the North Shore to come see Livescreamers for yourself. Though I am biased, I will say that I love this movie. I bet on Michelle Iannantuono, and I think if you love video game horror, you should, too. It’s gory, scary, funny, and topical, and It’s a great Friday late-night movie. But, if you want an unbiased opinion, I’ll let the awards for Best Ensemble and Best Screenplay at Genreblast, Best Director at New York City Horror Film Festival, and Best Feature Film at Nevermore Film Festival try to convince you. I’m so amazed by everything Michelle Iannantuono does, Please go and see Livescreamers at Salem Horror Fest this weekend, I think you’ll find something pretty amazing as well.

I wish Michelle Iannantuono, her cast, and crew all the luck in the world, as they are among the Official Selections at the festival over the next two weekends.

Livescreamers plays at 9:45 PM this Friday at Die With Your Boots On as a part of Salem Horror Fest’s Weekend ITickets for the festival are on sale now and include access to a multitude of films and events throughout this coming April 26 through April 28 weekend.

Written by Sean Parker

Sean lives just outside of Boston. He loves great concerts, all types of movies, video games, and all things nerd culture.

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