Stay Alive (2006) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual and drug content
Running time: 85 min.
Cast: Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong, Frankie Muniz, Jimmi Simpson, Sophia Bush, Wendell Pierce, Milo Ventimiglia, Adam Goldberg, Billy Slaughter, Nicole Opperman, April Wood
Director: William Brent Bell
Screenplay: William Brent Bell, Matthew Peterman
Staying alive might be the ultimate object for the characters in this insipid horror film, but the only difficulty for most members of the audience will be staying awake. You needn't bother, as whatever dreams you might have while the rest of the movie plays is likely to be better, and probably make much more sense, than anything you're likely to see on the screen.
Stay Alive has one unique hook, which is its tie-in to the video game industry. The rest is typical horror, with 20-something actors cast mostly on their looks, jump-scares that occur at predictable intervals, and plenty of mindless titillation throughout. There have been other films where people can die in real-life if they cease to exist in virtual reality: Tron, eXistenz, and even The Matrix are just some examples. You could even cite A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels for that matter. The only thing that sets Stay Alive apart is that the characters actually aren't sucked into this alternate reality, always existing in the here and now, although they all do play in some sort of multiplayer online third-person shooter that seems to exist on two planes itself.
The story begins with a young man, a PC game beta tester, losing his life shortly after dying in this game, dubbed, "Stay Alive", a sort of horror genre creeper that is semi-based on Elizabeth Bathory, an actual historical figure and subject of urban legend, by whomever made it. Oddly, he dies much in the same manner as he did in the game, as well as his roommates. One of his good friends inherits a few of his leftover knick knacks, including his game collection, and since "Stay Alive" was the last known thing that he had been doing before his death, his friends decide to honor his memory by playing the game themselves. Unfortunately, they find out the hard way that the only way to keep themselves among the living is to stay alive within the game. And to make matters worse, the game cheats.
It's hard to avoid recycling comments I've made time and again regarding the horror films marketed to the high school and college age crowds, but given that Stay Alive is practically nothing but recycled formulas itself, the issue seems forced. The only joy to watching this film for a seasoned moviegoer is the time-honored game of "pick who dies and in which order", and along these lines, Stay Alive will probably not surprise many in its execution. It isn't really worse than the dozens of films just like it that have come before it, but at this point in the cycle, the tedium factor will be quite high for many viewers.
The film (at least the theatrical release) isn't scary at all. The story isn't particularly engaging either. Basically, the only allure of the film is to try to get the horror fan cliques out to the theaters to have a a couple of hours of vacuous entertainment that they can all laugh at and scream. Without many choice chuckles or well-earned jolts, the results are sub par even on the basest of levels.
One final note: you have to laugh when you hear about any game in which the way to protect oneself from certain doom is by "dropping a rose". Perhaps the writers weren't aware that this term is a euphemism for flatulence. Seems like the creators of Stay Alive dropped one giant rose in theaters when this film was released. Sadly, we were offered no protection from this stinker, wallowing in its unpleasant aroma for its full 85 minute duration.
-- The 100-minute Director's Cut has been released on DVD and is considered preferable to the theatrical release which was gutted for time and a PG-13 rating.
©2007 Vince Leo