Stay Alive: The Film: The review

Stay Alive logo

Welcome to part 3 of 5 in this weekly series of reviews of films of games. This Sunday it’s time to take a look at the Frankie Muniz vehicle Stay Alive.

I swear there might be something worth writing about this, really I do.

This film has long held legendary status in my place of work: a legend of being utterly terrible. There would be whispers of Stay Alive all over the town (well, office). But it was only last week that I was able to verify the true terribleness of this film for myself.

Stay Alive’s main plot concerns a bunch of people (no, they aren’t just teenagers) who get a hold of a game (named Stay Alive) with an unusual twist: if you die in the game, you’ll be murdered in real life. By ghosts. Shitty CGI ghosts.

Stay Alive screengrab 2

The best way to describe this film is "like Pulse with a focus on video games and, inexplicably, Elizabeth Bathory."

The film starts out with a reasonably gruesome death. The guy who played ‘Rick Rape’ in the film Gamer (reviewed here) is hung by being pushed off a balcony into an awaiting noose. After that the film hobbles itself with a generic slasher/horror template; there are the characters that you are supposed to care about and then there are those that cost more so therefore last longer. Stay Alive even uses the cliché idea that if you don’t see a character die then they can’t really be dead.

After about twenty minutes I could only imagine this being a complete write-off what with its O.C. and One Tree Hill rejects becoming estranged from their appendages.  But then Wendell Pierce showed up.

Who is Wendell Pierce? Well Wendell Pierce happens to be the M*****F***ing Bunk from the greatest TV show ever made, The Wire.

And don’t you forget it.

Stay Alive - Bunk

"Bitch, no one cares about your cracker ass. I might be a secondary character but I can out-act you in a heartbeat."

Bunk’s involvement in Stay Alive is minimal; he only shows up after the second victim is brutalised in his office by the CGI Bathory. However, it is Bunk (credited as detective Thibodeaux) who interrogates Hutch, the main character, and this becomes the film’s pivotal scene.

I say “pivotal scene” mainly because it has the M*****F***ing Bunk in it.

The most surprising thing about this film is that it probably comes the closest, out of the five I’ve reviewed in this series, to actually representing gamers as they really are – as well as communicating this in a realistic manner. For example, within minutes of the film starting one of the soon-to-be-dead guys compares Stay Alive to Fatal Frame. Now, this fictional game doesn’t deserve that comparison (apart from the fact that it takes 3D to the point of homicide) but I was impressed that they went for that reference. It would have been easier to compare it to Resident EvilSilent Hill or even Alone in the Dark but no: they actually went for a relatively obscure Japanese horror-survival game. Less recognisable, but a more appropriate reference.

The casting on the other hand is dire but at least the stereotypes they play are based on something that can be halfway convincing (excepting the six-pack sporting Hutch).

This was also one of the few films in the series where gamers were portrayed as holding down real jobs. In the other films gamers are either represented as slackers who do nothing, autistic geniuses incapable of working a regular job, or living the dream and playing video games for a living. To the film’s credit it has some of the cast actually going to an office and, you know, contributing.

There are a few things I could pick at in terms of the inaccuracies present (Cliff Blezinski, the film’s games advisor, needs to have a finger waggled at him). The players are shown playing a PC game and yet they all choose to play it using a controller; many PC nerds will tell you that these people would be ostracised, not just for having personal hygiene but also because everyone knows that mouse and keyboard are the only way to go. [Ed: in fairness controllers have been used throughout much of PC gaming history, and n recent years the 360 pad has become quite widely used for many PC games… it’s true that we have terrible personal hygiene, though. I’ve not even cleaned up the dead backpackers in my bathroom and it’s been weeks.]

The film’s greatest weakness, though, is being yawnsome to the point that I can’t even muster anything funny to say about it.

Stay Alive screengrab 3

This scene looks like a tribute to the Mega/SEGA CD game Night Trap. I am being polite.

The relationships between each of the characters is barely established. Their personalities and behaviour seem to be dictated by what might get them killed, with each member of the cast pretty much chaperoning their own death throes. The special effects are definitely special (not in a good way) and there is very little that isn’t a gross cliché.

To be fair, there is one moment where they show a Dreamcast controller on sale above a PlayStation 2. If I had a scoring system that would be worth a point on its own.

Stats:

Director: Willian Brent Bell
Starring: Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong, Frankie Muniz, Jimmi Simpson, Wendell Pierce, Sophia Bush, Adam Goldberg
One to ignore: Take your pick really

Stay Alive - Frankie Muniz

Alright, this idiot.

One to watch: Who else?

Stay Alive - Bunk

The M*****F***ing Bunk!