Stay Alive

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Kids, your parents have been telling you for years that video games are bad for you, and now here’s proof: “Stay Alive” was made by people who play video games all the time, and LOOK WHAT IT’S DONE TO THEIR BRAINS!!

This week’s stupid but harmless PG-13 cookie-cutter horror film is about a group of young people with names like Hutch, Swink, Phineus, Loomis and October. Oh, and an Abigail; she’s the odd duck, I guess. These people live in a magical, hurricane-free version of New Orleans and play video games, possibly for a living. Hutch (Jon Foster) has a job doing something vague, but all his boss (Adam Goldberg) wants to talk to him about is gaming. And Abigail (Samaire Armstrong) is a total stranger whom Hutch meets at a funeral when she comes up and starts snapping pictures of grievers — a horror film’s idea of a “meet-cute,” I guess.

The funeral is for Loomis (Milo Ventimiglia), who dies in the film’s prologue after playing a video game called Stay Alive, a gothic horror game set in a haunted mansion in the Louisiana bayous. He failed to heed the game’s title advice and was subsequently killed for real in exactly the same way his game character died. (I take this to mean that next time I play Super Mario Bros., there’s every chance I will thereafter be killed by turtles.)

Hutch and the gang don’t know the game is what killed Loomis, so they play it and learn for themselves the power it wields. I won’t spoil anything, but think about the order in which characters usually die in these movies. First it’s whoever’s oldest and least attractive. Then it’s whoever’s a jerk. That usually leaves only three or four potential victims, and you know the leading man and his love interest will survive (unless it’s a gruesome R-rated affair, in which case EVERYONE might die). “Stay Alive” follows the template to the letter, including the climactic scene where the two main characters inexplicably split up when all common sense would dictate they stick together.

Oh, the movie wants you to know that Hutch’s mom died in a fire when he was young and that he’s afraid of fire because of it, but I don’t feel like mentioning that. Frankie Muniz is in the movie, too, but I don’t feel like mentioning that either.

I will mention that this movie is so “The Ring” that it even has creepy ghost girls with stringy hair crab-walking across floors. Director William Brent Bell, who has worked on some Roger Corman films and who co-wrote this one with first-timer Matthew Peterman, achieves a few genuinely spooky moments here and there by employing — of all things — subtlety. A dark figure appearing quietly in the background of a shot is much more chilling than having it lunge out at you in the foreground, after all, though there winds up being plenty of that, too.

At its heart, it’s a very dumb story. It’s a fairly bad movie, too, but amusingly so. It’s hard to hate a flick where someone can say, in all seriousness and with great emotion, “Somebody ran my brother down with a horse-drawn carriage. I’m gonna find out who did it and hurt them.” A line that bad doesn’t come along every day, folks.

Note: Jon Foster, who plays the lead role, gave what should have been a star-making performance in 2004’s “The Door in the Floor.” That movie grossed only $3.8 million in its entire run. “Stay Alive,” in which he gets to exhibit none of his acting talent, will earn twice that on its opening day. Where’s the justice?

D (1 hr., 25 min.; PG-13, a lot of profanity, one F-word, moderate gore and violence, brief sexuality.)

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