For a film that flaunts Alienware gaming PCs and has people casually drop references to G4 TV and Fatal Frame, it’s amazing how little Stay Alive actually knows about the video-game culture in which its terror-lite tale is set. Envisioning a fantasy world where hunks and hotties team up on weekends with goths, dorks, wiseasses, and adult professionals to play online survival horror titles in living rooms equipped with multiple flat-screen monitors, William Brent Bell’s contribution to the increasingly-moribund slasher genre involves the titular interactive ghost story, which kills its real-life players in the exact same manner as their polygonal avatars. Still in the beta testing phase—meaning it’s “barely legal” (ooh, how dangerous!)—“Stay Alive” is haunted by the spirit of a crazy New Orleans countess who, back in the day, slaughtered scores of boarding school kids, and now believes that the best victims are those with dual-shock controllers in hand. Given the cast of losers on display, she seems to be correct. Even with wacko names like Hutch, Fidget, Swink, and October, Bell’s protagonists exhibit less personality than their oft-seen digitally rendered counterparts, though there’s eye-rolling amusement to be had watching Frankie Muniz valiantly try to maintain his last shred of dignity while wearing an upside-down, cockeyed visor and rambling on about “perceptive reality.” Inadvertent comedy is what Stay Alive mostly has to offer, from crazy-mouthed hipster-doofus Phineus (Jimmi Simpson) uttering things like “Sweet Sebastian Bach, I wanna play!” to the film’s pathetic theft of The Ring‘s little-dead-girl imagery. And yet there’s nonetheless something infuriatingly cheap about how Bell and co-screenwriter Matthew Peterman construct their scenario, circumnavigating the most obvious solution to their heroes’ dilemma—which would be to stop playing!—by just ignoring, during the latter half, the prescribed ground rules they established during the first half. Oh, and then they resurrect Muniz’s weirdo without so much as an explanation. Prepare to feel cheated.
It would appear that this Stay Alive DVD will reach stores without passing beta testing. Audio is inconsistent throughout, but it's a miracle of nuance compared to the image, which is either muggy or dark (note the scene where Hutch passes Abigail a roll of toilet paper) and congested with crushed blacks and all types of digital artifacts, most embarrassing being the combing effect around the yellow traffic lines next to Phineas's corpse.
The audio commentary track by writer-director William Brent Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman is less fanboyish than you might expect but it's still useless. Kudos to them for not identifying a creepy James Haven as Angelina Jolie's brother, but what possible purpose is there in telling us that gamers from New Orleans dress a little differently than gamers from anywhere else in the country? Rounding out the disc is a lazy visual effects reel and trailers for other upcoming theatrical and video releases from the Walt Disney umbrella.
Of interest to geeks are the interactive bonus menus, but this is still one of the worst looking discs we've seen from a major video distributor in years.