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STAY ALIVE
Unrated Director's Cut

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong, Frankie Muniz, Jimmi Simpson, Milo Ventimiglia, James Hayen, Sophia Bush, Adam Goldberg
Director: William Brent Bell
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Hollywood
Features: See Review
Length: 101 Minutes
Release Date: September 19, 2006

“BITCH, THAT’S CHEATING! I’M NOT EVEN DEAD YET!”

Film ***

Well if it’s thought-provoking cinema you’re gaming for, do not go anywhere near Stay Alive. However, if it’s pure mindless and gory fun that doesn’t require so much use of the brain, you need to see it. I feel almost guilty in recommending this film. I wasn’t expecting anything particularly intriguing, judging by how much it got trashed by both critics and audiences earlier this year. Much to my surprise, the movie very surpassed my extremely low expectations.

Maybe the reason for liking it has to do with the fact that I watched it for the first time in the new Unrated Director’s Cut, which reportedly threw back in many scenes of gore, sex and profanity that would’ve easily gotten the film an R rating. For those unaware, Stay Alive was released theatrically with a PG-13 rating (why this keeps happening, I have no idea).

Aside from that, the movie works as a go-for-broke, purposefully over-the-top B horror movie. On paper, the premise would sound truly ridiculous, but the way the movie executes it is more than impressive. It also gets points in terms of set design, camera work and some genuinely creepy moments.

The film’s title refers to the name of an underground video game that is catching word of mouth for what many would think is the wrongest reason imaginable; the game’s plot is based on a 17th century legend that many believe actually happened (isn’t that what we call an oxymoron?) And wouldn’t you know it, the game’s setting, a haunted plantation/mansion, happens to resemble one that isn’t too far away from the movie’s setting. How convenient?

But anyway, back to the game. It also happens to carry a special feature. I’m not referring to character design, nor am I referring special multi-player format. No, friends, this game carries the most intriguing bonus any video game could include…the ability to kill anyone who plays it.

Yes, and the even better part is that not only does it kill the people who play it, but victims are taken out in the exact same style they did while playing the game. An example, one guy who gets killed by getting run over by a speeding horse carriage in the video game is killed in real life by a speeding horse carriage that comes out of nowhere. Damn horse carriages!

So the movie plays like a hybrid of The Ring and Final Destination. The comparison to the latter comes into play once the characters realize they’re being offed in the same order they were offed when playing the game together. Stay Alive does have some remarkably gruesome death scenes, the highlight of which is a character’s face getting ripped apart in a truck by a device that pops up out of nowhere, but was the exact death instrument in the game. Nice would be the word I’d used to describe that moment.

So yeah, the movie is goofy to a degree but not so goofy that I was ready to dismiss it. Stay Alive is high-octane, mindless, bloody fun and its not trying to be anything but. It might help if you set your expectations low, as I did, and you might end up liking it more than you thought you would.

Video ***

Although this is, for the most part, a dynamite presentation courtesy of Hollywood/Buena Vista, there are several noticeable setbacks in the lengthy scenes that were put back in for this Director’s Cut version. One scene in particular, where two characters venture inside a mansion home to talk with the proprietor, doesn’t look like it’s in the best mastered form. Aside from that, the image quality in this anamorphic presentation is top notch. The video game sequences come off as very visually engaging.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix does some nice things with the surround sound, which is a must have quality for any fright fest. The video game sequences, again, are the highlight here, as you feel as if you’re right there in game thanks to the superb work delivered by side and rear speakers. The curse of the video game carries with it a reverberating sound cue to signal its presence, which itself sounds quite creepy. Music and numerous fright sequences also sound fantastic, as does the dialogue delivery.

Features **

The extras listed make it seem like there’s a lot to be excited about, but the truth is there isn’t really much to be spared in terms of extras for this release. Included is a commentary track with director William Brent Bell and screenwriter Matthew Peterman, a visual effects reel, and a menu option where you can create your own character to do battle, something of which I wasn’t able to do much with…but maybe it was just me.

Summary:

Stay Alive won’t do any good working on your brain, which is good since you don’t even need it to enjoy it. With Halloween just around the corner, this makes a worthy selection to view on a late night. Oh, and it’s a must see for gamers everywhere, hehe!

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