Straight from the set-'em-up and knock-'em-down school of teen-horror filmmaking, Stay Alive
gives literal meaning to the parental lament, "Those games will kill you someday." Not that you'll find any parents in this gimmicky thriller set in New Orleans; they're conspicuously absent when Hutch (Jon Foster) and his hardcore gamer pals discover "Stay Alive," a mysterious next-generation computer game that has a nasty way of precipitating mayhem, horror, and death. If your character dies in the game, you're doomed to die in identically grisly fashion in real life. So, just don't play the game, right? WRONG. This being a teen horror flick with a screenplay that makes no sense whatsoever, the gamer pals (including victim #2, Hutch's boss, played with game-addicted fervor by Adam Goldberg) obsessively investigate the game and its creepy Ring-like origins in the 17th century murder spree of a woman known as "The Blood Countess." Because movies like this are best viewed on a steady diet of Pop Tarts and Ritalin, Jimmi Simpson earns top honors as the gamer pal with the creepiest behavior, and Malcolm in the Middle fans will enjoy the presence of Frankie Muniz as a gamer geek whose primary fashion statement consists of grimy T-shirts and green plastic poker-visors. While not nearly as fun or clever as the Final Destination
movies, Stay Alive
delivers a few good deaths while blatantly stealing most of its horror highlights from Ju-On
and other Japanese horror hits. It's junk from start to finish, but its target audience of mallrats and gamers (especially those with attention deficit disorder, which helps to ignore the plot holes) won't mind a bit.--Jeff Shannon
This pop culture-laden fright-fest takes the legend of Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary and relocates it in the inherently creepy locale of New Orleans. The usual cast of motley and none-too-bright teenagers is assembled and attached to quirky names--smartass Phineas (Jimmi Simpson) and his Goth-girl sister, October (Sophia Bush), hunky protagonist Hutch (Jon Foster), and tech-head Swink (Frankie Muniz), to name a few--and they all have one thing in common: the love of gaming. When Hutch's best friend Loomis (Milo Ventimiglia) is a victim in a violent massacre, Hutch ends up with the game he was playing just before he died. Called 'Stay Alive', the game is technically illegal and Hutch and his friends can't resist booting it up. The game resurrects the Countess, who centuries ago was walled up in her tower when her crimes were discovered (she is said to have brutally murdered 650 servant girls and bathed in their blood). Now, she is fulfilling her vow to return to reassume her reign of terror. This time, however, her victims are gamers who will die in the same way in life as they do in the game. The video game itself becomes a character in the film, showing off excellent 3-D, cinematic effects, and creating an effectively spooky atmosphere with a memorable, if derivative, aesthetic. The gore never gets too brutal but the scare tactics are adept, while the Countess herself, with pasty skin and high-necked red dress, is a movie monster worthy of canonisation.