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Stay Alive: Unrated Director's Cut

When it's used too often, mood lighting can negates the effect it's trying to create — eventually the atmosphere becomes so exhausting that it makes the audience aware of what it's trying to do. And there's nothing so damaging to a horror film than seeing the fingerprints of its creators. Such is the case with 2006's Stay Alive, which is so dark and grungy that eventually it grows wearing. Then again, it had no illusions of being anything other than a cheap cash-grab of a film. The premise is that friends of Hutch O'Neill (Jon Foster) die testing a new video game called "Stay Alive." Unwittingly, Hutch introduces the game to his closest friends Swink (Frankie Muniz), Phineas (Jimmi Foster), his sister October (Sophia Bush), new friend Abigail (Samaire Armstrong), and Hutch's boss Miller (Adam Goldberg). After one night of playing the game, Miller ends up dead, but it takes at least a reel for the characters to realize what was evident from looking at the DVD cover — it's the game that kills you, as the creator unintentionally released a ghostly spirit on whomever plays it. As a piece of entertainment, Stay Alive is insulting, obvious, and not scary — there's just nothing here that creates a sense of fear or excitement. And where some of the most successful recent horror films (like Hostel and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes) have tapped into modern concerns about torture, the genre often benefits from exploiting real-world fears, which includes playing video games too much (even there, the film avoids any sort of political commentary), but isn't invoked. Ironically, Stay Alive was made in New Orleans and was the last film completed before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Alas, the film seems barely set in the bayou (outside of the gothic manor that is the video game's set). But playing a video game that kills you is a pretty silly narrative and needs clever writing to make the movie about predestination, or a grander sense of fate. Alas, those sorts of conundrums are beyond the script's limited scope, which is set on killing off the supporting characters in the order that seemed determined from their credit billing. Buena Vista has released Stay Alive in an "Unrated Director's Cut" (which runs 101 min.) in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a "Visual Effects Reel" (3 min.), commentary by director William Brent Bell and writer Matthew Peterman, and alternate menus. Keep-case.

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