Stay Alive? More like Stay Awake. Yet another sub-par, PG-13 horror movie targeted at the teen market. The movie is rather predictable, and about as much fun as watching someone play a video game. For those of you who have never done that, it isn’t all that much fun — video games are interactive for a reason. When you get relegated to video game viewer, the reason to care about it decreases dramatically, unlike the much more passive experience of a film. Yes, a video game and a film can equally engage the viewer, the difference being, when you watch a movie, you do not have to be an active participant.
What does all that have to do with the movie? Well, Stay Alive is the equivalent of watching a video game being played. Sure, there are a couple of cool things to look at, but nothing that actively engages the passive mind. The big question is, why would I subject myself to this? The answer to which, I do not have. Perhaps I was hoping that it would actually be good, or maybe I like to punish myself with bad movies. Whatever the case may be, I went and I saw and I stayed awake.
We open with — what else? — the video game. We watch as a young guy plays said game, which shares its name with the movie. After playing for a few minutes, he gets killed in the game. Shortly after that he starts to see things, and is quickly dispatched in the same way that his character died. If you couldn’t guess by that (or just the trailers for the film), you have a plot that centers on the video game world and the real world crossing over. Just like what is said about dreams, if you die in the game, you die for real.
The focus switches to the dead guy’s best pal and his gaggle of friendly rejects. They gather to mourn the loss of their friend, and what better way to celebrate his memory? By playing the game. Of course, one of the gaggle knows the real-world story behind the premise of the game. It concerns some old child killer who vowed to come back, blah, blah, blah. Then some more people start to die, in incredibly bloodless ways (need to preserve the PG-13). This spurs our intrepid heroes to try and track down the real-world inspiration. The plot goes through hoops to get our band from point A to point B in as few steps as possible.
The plot, such as it is, does not tread any new ground, nor is it all that interesting. I didn’t find any of the characters to be all that likable, or have any reason to care whether they lived or died. The rules change as they go along, some die hours after playing, while some die immediately after. The game escalates on its own with no real rhyme or reason. We never learn why these people were targeted, or are given any real explanation as to how this happens. Now, I don’t need the writers to explain every last detail, but I do expect there to be enough clues to reasonably explain it. This fails on all counts.
I am reminded of J-horror films. It is almost like this is a remake of a Japanese film that I have not seen. The structure is survival horror, where the characters are being pursued by these evil forces, and no matter what happens, they are not going to get out alive. Japanese horror has a certain sense of dread, unlike American horror, where the dread is there, but not quite as palpable. Granted, this is not nearly as good, or effective, but the impression is there. I am also reminded of a fun movie from the ’90s with a similar concept, Brainscan, which involves a hypnotic video game which produces all too real results.
The acting is decent, if unspectacular. Adam Goldberg seems uncharacteristically restrained as one of the side characters, and Frankie Muniz stays within his range as a character that seems a logical extension of his Malcolm character (Malcolm in the Middle). The main characters are relative newcomers, with Jimmi Simpson as the goofy Phineus.
Bottom line. Not a good movie. There are a couple of good looking scenes, but nothing that would save it. Far from the worst I have seen, but again, it is not all that much fun to watch. There is an over-reliance on the jump scare, and not much blood. I smell Unrated DVD. Watch at your own risk.