Stay Alive
directed by William Brent Bell
(Buena Vista, 2006)

With its allusions to the infamous Countess Bathory and its promising (albeit less than original) premise of a computer game that really takes on a life (and assorted deaths) of its own, Stay Alive was a movie I just had to watch. I know some people absolutely hated the movie (one critic, Christopher Smith, said "It boasts an absurd premise and runs with it as if it were running with scissors down a very steep hill"), it's certainly true that the plot basically hangs together with imagination alone and, yes, things really start to fall apart at the end, but I actually sort of enjoyed this movie for the most part. The video game animation was excellent, the first few scenes established some really good atmosphere, and Stay Alive does offer a slight twist on the typical slasher formula. And Sophia Bush is in it.

The story centers around a group of hard-core gamers (stereotypical one and all, from the "hero" to the geek to the goth chick to the hopelessly annoying big mouth, in addition to a cute young lady who inexplicably joins them) who get all caught up in this new, mysterious game called Stay Alive -- the very game one of their fellow gamers was playing the night he and his housemates died grisly deaths. Those victims physically died in the same way their characters were killed in the game -- although Hutch (Jon Foster) and his buds don't know this when they fire the beta test CD up and have a go themselves.

Now, personally, I would have to wonder about a game that only starts when I recite this little chant displayed on the screen without the game having any kind of voice recognition component. Well, these guys and gals start playing the game and -- you guessed it -- one of them dies the same way he died in the game. Now that's definitely weird, but it could still be coincidence at this point. With Death #3, though, it's definitely time to start freaking out. Just stop playing the game, you say? Ah, if only it were that easy. The game, you see, seems to still be running on its own in some kind of weird virtual vortex or something. As if things aren't bad enough, Hutch and his friends are definite subjects of interest for the local cops and have to go on the lam while they try to figure out a way to -- wait for it -- stay alive.

While Countess Erzebet Bathory is never mentioned by name, she is obviously the inspiration for the Blood Countess that lies at the heart of the video game. You remember Bathory, don't you? She's the Hungarian countess who slaughtered scores of young maidens because she thought she could sustain her youth by bathing in the blood of virgins. Here, the Blood Countess has been transferred to New Orleans and, for reasons the movie doesn't even pretend to explain, she's managed to embed her still-bloodthirsty soul into a video game. Once the gamers figure all this out, they come to the conclusion that, since reality is reflecting what happens in the game, the game must be reflecting real life as well -- as in the big tower where the Countess resides. In other words, they attempt to find her mortal remains and -- well, I'm not sure what the plan was, really.

I know the plot sounds pretty stupid -- and, frankly, it is pretty stupid -- but you can still get a kick out of Stay Alive; you just have to cast logic and realism aside and just have fun with what this movie gives you. If you can't do that, though, you will undoubtedly hate every single thing about it.

review by
Daniel Jolley

30 June 2007

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