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Those two words have broken the heart of many a video game junkie. But broken hearts are nothing compared to the nasty surprise six online gaming fans get when they load a mysterious beta version of a game named Stay Alive.
Hutch MacNeil is the alpha dog among a group of hard-core gaming geeks, and he's eager to introduce them to Stay Alive. It was the last game a friend of his had played before dying under unusual circumstances. The group decides the only way to properly mark his passing is to soldier on, virtually speaking.
The decidedly creepy gothic horror game they discover pits combatants against the zombie-like minions of the wicked 17th-century sadist Elizabeth Bathory. Hutch and Co. begin to suspect it's no ordinary game, however, when they have to recite a ghoulish prayer to this so-called Blood Countess to begin playing.
Those suspicions are confirmed when the character controlled by Hutch's boss, Miller (who's playing remotely in his office) meets a grisly end. Hutch arrives at work the next day to find police investigating Miller's very real murder—a death exactly like the bloody end he met in the game. At first, Hutch and his surviving friends, Swink, October, Phineus and Abigail, work to explain away Miller's death as a macabre coincidence. But as the malevolence of the game and its sinister villain begins to seep into reality, the surviving friends must face the horrifying truth: Death in the game means death in the real world, too. And the race is on to uncover the secret of the Blood Countess before she comes for each of them.
Once it's determined that dying online equates to dying at home, everyone pitches in for the common good. Swink arguably acts the most nobly in that he volunteers to play the game by himself to divert the Blood Countess' attention from the others.
An attendant at a video game store rightly acknowledges, "A game is just an extension of the mind that made it." Similarly, the film plays with (but does not seriously engage) the question of how video games shape our view of reality.
As Hutch and the other gamers gradually unravel the mystery of how the events in the game connect with real life, they discover that praying the prayer at the beginning of the game reanimates Bathory's sadistic spirit. Thereafter, she haunts and murders them in the real world. The only way to survive once that has happened is to find her actual corpse, drive three nails into her heart and one into her head, and then burn her blood (information they discover in a dusty occult tome about demons and witches). Thus, the film presents a spiritual worldview in which the dead can return to torment the living.
A funeral for one of the first people to die includes a brief reference to the Lord. A character jokes about eating "high-powered matzo balls at Bible camp."
A brief scene shows a man and woman in bed together. His uncovered torso is visible, as are her shoulders. It's clear they've been having sex. A male and female character kiss. While hanging upside down, Abigail's shirt falls down revealing her stomach (but not her breasts). October wears slinky, tight-fitting tops. Hutch is shown shirtless.
As you would expect in a teen slasher feature, Stay Alive is full of violence. Among the worst scenes is one in which a man is hung by a chain. For the most part, however, the violence in the film is suggested more than it's shown directly. And while there's no shortage of bloody shots, we rarely glimpse the wounds that cause them. For example, we don't witness Miller's murder, we "only" see the knife in his throat and blood everywhere after the fact. In similar fashion, a character's leg is caught in a trap. And a throat is slit.
Other violent images include Abigail being hung upside down and psychologically tormented by Bathory. A dead couple is seen in a bloody room. Someone is run over by a stagecoach and bleeds profusely on the road. And video game characters wielding guns shoot scurrying undead enemies. Abigail discovers a cache of horrifying drawings that picture torture and death. (It's unclear whether these were the images used by the game's designers or whether they're the personal "collection" of the Blood Countess.) Later we see a torture chamber that includes a table full of sadistic instruments.
It's implied that a policeman who played the game briefly is killed in his truck. And Hutch has flashbacks to a house fire his father set intentionally to kill his wife. [Spoiler Warning] Hutch pounds nails into Bathory's heart and head. This happens offscreen, though we still hear the hammer falls. By force of will, she removes the nails telepathically. Hutch then sets her on fire.
Crude or Profane Language
Stay Alive is rife with foul language. Most egregious are about 10 uses of "g--d--n," plus another dozen misuses of Jesus' or God's names. Characters spout the s-word 15 or so times. Before being killed, one of the women uses the f-word in a violent, sexual manner; it sounds like another character mutters the word twice under his breath. "B--ch" and "h---" get used five times each, plus about half-a-dozen other milder vulgarities.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Miller and October smoke cigarettes in several scenes.
Other Negative Elements
Miller instructs his secretary to tell his wife that he's working late when in reality he's staying to play video games. October insists she will exact revenge upon those responsible for the killings ("I'm gonna hurt them").
Stay Alive is a Frankensteinian mash-up drawing liberally from the story lines of The Ring, Saw and Nightmare on Elm Street with a nod to the game Resident Evil tossed in for good measure. Its marketing tagline tells us virtually everything we need to know about it: "You die in the game, you die for real." Consider that permission to free yourself of any lingering compulsion you might have to see it.
About the only thing even remotely "good" that might be said of this movie is that its PG-13 rating restricts it from going as far, violence-wise, as, say, the recent R-rated shock spectacle Hostel.
With regard to video games and violence, the film perhaps alludes to the problematic blurring between what's virtual and what is real. The kids in the story think they know the difference; the game suggests otherwise. Given the genre and execution, however, it's clear that a philosophical examination of video game violence isn't what the filmmakers are most interested in. Cashing in on the recent resurgence of horror is more like it. This is a disposable slasher flick, pure and simple, dialed down enough to reel in careless young fans—and their money—who are looking for a mindless thrill.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jon Foster as Hutch MacNeil; Samaire Armstrong as Abigail; Frankie Muniz as Swink Sylvania; Sophia Bush as October Bantum; Adam Goldberg as Miller; Jimmi Simpson as Phineus Bantum; Milo Ventimiglia as Loomis Crowley