It's a horror plot so surefire that you wonder why it hasn't been done before: Young people play a mysterious new videogame and start to die, one by one, in grisly scenes mimicking their game deaths. Stay Alive runs through this plot with such a plodding lack of imagination that you think again: Maybe this has been done before, on The X-Files or a direct-to-video picture you missed. Surely a movie this tired can't be the first crack at a fundamentally decent genre idea?
Stay Alive gets around this conundrum easily by knocking off The Ring and throwing in a little of the Final Destination series: the former's ghostly gimmick mixed with the latter's view of life as an elaborate series of macabre booby traps. Unfortunately, even the cut-and-paste is botched; no Ring-style tension builds, and the PG-13 rating curtails the death scenes, most of which all but cut away before the character's gory fate is sealed. Yes, you read that right: Stay Alive is like a Final Destination movie without the death scenes.
It would help - it usually would - if any of the characters sparked even minimal interest. Here we have the conflicted, haunted hero (Jon Foster) and the mysterious new love object (Samaire Armstrong), flanked by some more subculture-specific stereotypes: the callous, hardcore gamer/stoner (Jimmi Simpson), his goth sister (Sophia Bush), and a nerdy tech-head (Frankie Muniz). Yes, you read that right: Stay Alive's biggest star is Frankie Muniz. The rest of the characters keep telling him to shut up, which seems perfectly natural at first, until you realize he's the only one who displays even a modicum evidence of thought about videogames and the world around him.
But the movie is less interested in the gaming culture than in making the backstory of its villain as generically spooky as possible. The idea of a horror movie set within a particular youth subculture is actually pretty neat, and hopefully won't die along with Stay Alive's characters, momentum, and thrills. I eagerly await the emo-scene version, where My Chemical Romance groupies are haunted and picked off by a harpie killed in a freakish Hot Topic accident.
Besides its squandering of an ultra-high concept, Stay Alive is not really much worse than any other teen-targeted horror movie that refuses to be screened for critics. It makes minimal sense, displays minimal style, and provides minimal entertainment until it finally ends and provides a maxi-sized opening for a sequel. Yes, you read that right: At this time next year, I could be reviewing Stay Aliver.
Where's Travolta when you need him?