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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Stay Alive

When Stay Alive opened this weekend at the Essex Cinemas I was curious to see it for one reason ~ Frankie Muniz. The Malcolm in the Middle star is definitely in this exercise in bloodletting, but you would barely know it from the ads and the trailer for the film. If you blink at the wrong time during a commercial for the movie you will miss the one frame of film that flashes his familiar face, which is extremely odd considering he is the only “name” actor in the cast. You’d expect the producers to be playing up his participation to generate buzz about the movie, but other than an appearance on Live with Regis and Kelly where he talked a bit about the movie his involvement seems as mysterious as plot’s premise itself.

There must be a sociologist somewhere that has the answer to why we as a species seem to enjoy watching our young get slaughtered in a variety of different and gory ways. If so, I’d almost be
willing to bet he or she is being paid a bundle by Hollywood producers to keep quiet about their findings because it is a far too lucrative market to risk losing by examining it too closely. Look at Stay Alive, for example. It is the 7,431st teens-get- killed-one-by-one-movie of the decade and yet still we go. Does the plot matter? Not really. In this case as in most of these formulaic films it is just a skeleton that barely explains the killing as if to help us feel less guilty for enjoying it.

In Stay Alive we can blame it all on a video game, the oh-so-creatively called Stay Alive. If you log on and play the game, then whatever happens to you in the game will eventually happen to you in real life. That seems to be the one little fact left off of the advisory label for the beta testers who have bootlegged this baby
before it hits the market legitimately. Essentially, the plot boils down to the fact that the game is somehow based on the story of a real person, a 17th-century noblewoman, Countess Erzebet (Elizabeth) Bathory, known as "The Blood Countess", whose penchant for torture and murder would have made Pinhead and Freddie Krueger proud. Since she was locked away in a tower for her evil deeds she has sought a way back to continue her horrible hobby and has found that she can do just that through the magic of video. I can’t help but wonder if this doesn’t somehow also explain Simon Cowell from American Idol, but that is not addressed in this movie. Anyway, it is inevitable naturally, that the lure of the game is too much for the characters in our film and so the story moves them further down the chute towards the slaughterhouse.

So who we have here is a group of disparate acquaintances who connect after the death their friend, our before-the-opening credits-first victim. They are a motley crew of stereotypes plucked from just about every horror/slasher flick in the genre. There’s the good guy/hunk Hutch (Jon Foster), the heroine Abigail (Samaire Armstrong), October, the witch (Sophia Bush of tv’s One Tree Hill), Swink Sylvania, the brainiac (Frankie Muniz), Adam Goldberg (The Salton Sea; A Beautiful Mind) as Miller, the raving neurotic, and Jimmi Simpson (Herbie: Fully Loaded) as Phineus, the stoner. Tick tock, tick tock. It’s only a matter of time before we can kiss ‘em all goodbye (except for the hunk and the heroine, of course, who must somehow fulfill an Adam and Eve urge in all of us to go forth and multiply, but only after finishing college, having a nice Protestant wedding and securing a low-interest mortgage and getting a tasteful 3 bedroom Colonial in the ‘burbs, preferably with a lake view).

Before the Barbie and Ken wannabes can be free, of course, they have to wade through a lot of gruesomeness and Stay Alive offers some actual scares with its’ meshing of video game and “real life” images reminiscent of those seen in The Ring. Critters from the game seem to find their way into this world if only for a moment here and there, just long enough for audience members to spill popcorn on the floor and create additional job security for Heather, Nancy, Lan, and the rest of the
staff of the theater who will be cleaning up between showings.

By the film’s end, a brief 85 minutes, enough shocks have come and gone to satisfy the average fan’s penchant for fright until another release pops up in a week or two. Some may be disappointed that there is not nearly the level of bloodshed as in Hostel or The Hill Have Eyes, but you have to remember that the producers had to spend the fake blood budget on Frankie’s salary for this one.

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