Thursday, March 4, 2010

The First Review!

I thought long and hard about what my first review should be. After all, it'd help set the tone for the blog. Would I do a good movie, and thus solidify my credentials as being able to pick out things that are done well? Pick my favourite movie, and give an insight in to my psyche? Do a horrible movie, and join the ranks of critics deservedly slamming bad movies? What genre? Comedy? (Comedy's a horrible choice for a review, since humour's such an individual taste, I think) Action? Well, I decided to give my sarcasm muscles a flex and pick a bad horror movie!

And this one's really bad. It's not enough that it's a teen slasher, but they also go include video games in the premise. Now, while I've enjoyed movies based on games, even I'm not crazy enough to think any of them have been good. Even when games are only peripherally involved. But what we have here is the perfect intersection of terrible movies: video games and teen slasher. Even the tag line lets you know in advance what you're in for:
You die in the game, you die for real.
Ooh, I get chills just hearing it. No, wait, that's my fan. Some readers may already know what movie I'm talking about, but for those who haven't, you get one more hint:
Frankie Muniz.

Okay, no more delaying and playing around. For my first review, I've chosen Stay Alive.

For those not familiar with the movie, I'll give you a quick plot summary (warning, spoilers): Some teens play a game, they get killed. More teens play the game, they get killed. Evil gets defeated, but then it turns out that evil survived. The End.

What's that? There must be more to it? Well, you're right, but the rest is even stupider. We'll get to that though. First, I'd like to talk about the DVD. I have the "Unrated Director's Cut." When you get to the main menu, it sports a character customization screen. That's actually kind of clever. It features the characters used in the movie, and gives you an instruction that you're to match up character with weapon and shirt. Not that you'll have any clue of what the proper combinations are unless you've already watched the movie. Get the combination wrong, you get a jump scare cut scene. Get it right, you move on to a slightly different menu. There's no real difference between the menus beyond the graphics (you can still access scene select, play, and the bonus features from both), but it does manage to raise your expectations slightly. After all, if they put that much effort in to the DVD menu, the movie itself must be good, right?  ...right?


I'll be writing this as I watch the movie again.

We open with a CGI scene that is simultaneously way better and way worse than anything you'll see in games nowadays. It gives off a "Silent Hill meets Resident Evil" kind of vibe. Freaky stuff happens, person runs from little girls with black hair (wow, did we just stumble in to a J-Horror?), stumbles across some bodies killed in graphic fashion, and then gets killed himself by being hung from a chain off a second-floor balcony, and then we get a game over screen. If that sounds confusing, that's okay, it's not a lot more clear in the movie.

The Game Over screen pulls out, and we see Jess from Gilmore Girls, but a lot scruffier looking (yes, I not only watched Gilmore Girls enough to recognize and name a character when the actor shows up in a different movie, but I actually own all seven seasons on DVD. I'm secure enough in my masculinity to admit that). Oh Jess, you're better than this. Get out now before it's too late! Well, Jess wanders around his place, at night, hearing spooky noises. Horror movie clichés 101, the standards. Walks in on his roommates, who are currently boinking. There's your unrated right there. Turns out they were playing the game earlier as well, and their characters were the ones he stumbled across in the game. Jess wanders around some more, hears a freaky noise, panics, runs, finds his roommates slaughtered in horrible fashion, and then gets killed himself by being yanked off his second-floor balcony by a chain and hanging from the ceiling. OMG! Just like how he died in the game! Huh. Good thing for the Evil that he had that balcony, or I don't know what would have happened. Whole movie could have fallen apart right there. Well, Jess. I tried to warn you, but too late now. I'll let Rory know of your passing.

Unfortunately, things slow down a lot from there. We meet our real main character, Hutch. No, not that Hutch. Unfortunately. We also meet Hutch's boss. The movie tries to establish some form of "gamer cred" by having them discuss game strategy for Silent Hill 4. I actually played Silent Hill 4. They're both quite firmly talking from betwixt their buttocks. Some research shows me that the strategy is for the original Silent Hill, but that's not helping establish that gamer cred the movie was so desperate to earn. During the conversation, they're interrupted by a phone call telling Hutch that Jess is dead. Apparently they were long-time friends, and at the funeral, Jess's little sister gives Hutch a bag full of Jess's stuff, because the parents were "just going to throw it out." Wow, parents, that's cold. Your kid's not even buried, and you're throwing his stuff away. We also meet Hot Blonde Chick (who is neither particularly hot, nor a natural blonde), who is randomly taking photos of the funeral, despite not knowing Jess or anyone in Jess's circle of family and friends. Awkward interaction between HBC and Hutch let us know she's the love interest of the movie.

We are then rapidly introduced to the rest of the victi- I mean cast of stereoty... I mean characters. We have Asshole and his sister Goth Chick, and Nerd, played by Frankie Muniz (Malcom in the Middle!). I'd refer to them by character names, but what's the point? Asshole goes pawing through Jess's bag and pulls out a lighter. Being an asshole, Asshole then starts playing with it. Hutch sees the puny flame and freaks out. I smell plot point! Upon further rummaging, Asshole discovers a bootleg copy of a game called Stay Alive. Apparently, this is actually legit, as Jess did beta testing for game companies. There's the massive plot hole of this being obviously a multi-player game, and likely runs dedicated servers, so there's probably no way for anyone not strictly authorized to run the game to actually play, but because the plot says so, they manage to install, run, and connect the game on six computers, including on Hutch's boss's work computer. The boss is so inept-seeming I'm surprised he managed to not strangle himself with his tie that morning, so the IT department must be really lax at that company. During the setting up to play, there's two important things to note. Well, not important to the plot, but important in relation to the quality of the movie. The first is an exchange between Malcolm and Asshole. This is the first extended bit of restored footage for the Director's Cut. And I have to ask the distribution company this: If you're going to include bonus footage, wouldn't it be nice if you actually cleaned it up to the standard of the rest of the film? The colour timing, grain, and just overall quality of the clip is noticeably lower than the rest of the film, and that trend continues with all the inserted footage, to the point where effects shots weren't even finished.

The second thing of note in this scene is HBC has to go to the bathroom! Even worse, Hutch has callously left the toilet paper holder empty and no spare rolls in the bathroom at all! The cad. Upon realizing this, Hutch goes to tell HBC that there's no toilet paper, and offers to send in Goth Chick with a rescue roll. HBC declines, and just asks Hutch to hand it in himself. And now, to really indicate the level of quality we're dealing with here, I'm going to emphasize this next part. The movie felt it necessary to not only have a scene revolving around HBC needing to use the bathroom, but it actually shows her on the toilet. As if the movie wasn't shitty enough. Thanks movie. We really needed to see that. The whole thing serves as a flimsy excuse to get Hutch alone and talking to someone who doesn't know his past, so that he can info dump about how he met Jess, and try and establish some more gamer cred, since he and Jess met playing Unreal Tournament. Hooray for name-dropping. Unfortunately for the timeline of the movie, this was a bad choice. These guys are all out of high school, and have office jobs, meaning they're firmly in their 20s. In fact, the actors are in their mid-20s. Unreal Tournament came out in 1999, seven years before this movie was released. Hutch and Jess are later revealed to have grown up in the same house after his father burned his mother alive, when Hutch is show in flashbacks to be well under 15, probably around 10.

Once they start playing, more plot points are dropped with the subtlety of bricks. Geronge Plantation is harped on, and the fact that they had to recite a seance in order to start playing. To further shred any gamer cred, a BIG GLOWING WARDROBE is missed by "gamer" Hutch, but spotted by HBC. Inside, there's stairs to a secret room with a diary and a portrait of the lady seen at the start of the movie, who killed Jess. Immediately thereafter, bossman is killed in the game by having a pair of scissors shoved in his neck. Everyone decides that this is about the point to stop playing, and since bossman was playing from work, alone, and he died in the game, after a series of quick jump scares and orchestra stings, he dies. No big loss, he likely would have OD'd on cocaine sooner or later. Hutch gets to work the next day, is told bossman's dead, freaks out, and then manages to make himself the prime suspect in under a minute. Geez, he works fast. Everyone gets together, Asshole acts like an asshole, pretentious plot exposition, everyone leaves Asshole alone as he plays. More pretentious plot expositions, and a giant leap to "my friends were killed after playing the game, my boss was killed, the GAME is killing people!" An actual subtle plot point is laid in as Asshole finds a silver-backed mirror in-game and uses it, since the Evil doesn't like mirrors, and breaks any she sees.

We then get some cheap scares of a fairly stock variety. Seeing non-existent people, bleeding objects, that sort of thing. This prompts Hutch to somehow hack the police database, where full police reports and crime scene photos are available not only for his boss's murder, but Jess and roommates as well. Wow. That police department's really with it considering how crappy their security is. More tension building of dubious value, jump scare, next scene. Next scene consists of PLOT DUMP! The police reports establish that however someone died in the game is how they died for real. Which is odd, since it never showed them discovering Jess's body, or the bodies of his roommates in-game, and Jess never mentioned it before getting knocked off. So I'm not entirely sure how Hutch knew how Jess and his roommates died.

During the plot dump, Asshole is shown having a freakout, and then calls his sister, Goth Chick. Everyone reminds him he hasn't died in the game yet, since he paused right before he was run over by a carriage. Everyone knows that Evil cheats though, and so he's immediately run over by a carriage (the police even manage to identify that it WAS a horse-drawn carriage, right away, too), and they discover that the game unpaused itself and Asshole's character was run over. The cops show up, and Hutch gives them his file of police reports and tries to convince them that the game is connected to everyone's death, and of course manages to further convince the cops that he's responsible for everyone's deaths. During this, jackass cop plays the game and promptly dies in under five minutes. Wow, talk about a loser. Not completely his fault though, he was clearly playing the alpha, if the graphics and poor burn-in on the laptop screen are anything to go by.

Goth Chick resolves to do something, and everyone gets their mission go off in pairs and learn stuff. Jackass cop also goes off to learn stuff, another name drop (Q*Bert), discover it's not a currently released title (which we knew, since Jess was a beta tester), Hutch and HBC break in to Jess's house to look for clues, and find a weird media player/camera looking thing that turns out to be a PDA stashed inside Jess's computer. Why Jess's computer is still there, rather than in police custody for analysis? Who knows. They find the address for the game developer, Goth Chick finds out about the owner of Geronge Plantation, the Blood Countess, and then the cops show up at Hutch's place, and Malcolm and Goth Chick manage to evade the cops by going down the fire escape. Wow. Majorly effective police force there. Cut to Hutch and HBC showing up at a large mansion, walking in uninvited, and stumbling across the designer of the game, who then sends them off to talk to some crazy lady who wrote a book about the Blood Countess and Geronge Plantation. More plot dump, only this time it's given in a hilarious faux New Orleans accent, made worse because it's the only accent to be seen in the rest of the movie. Highlight of this scene is when the crazy lady tries to pronounce "resurrected" with about as much success as Elmer Fudd would have.

Hutch and HBC return to Goth Chick and Malcolm, only to find that Goth Chick went out for a smoke, and the game is playing itself! Evil cheats AGAIN! Man, I did NOT see that coming. Damn you Evil! Obviously this Evil is of the Chaotic variety, rather than Lawful. Goth Chick walks in to a house under construction because she saw the Blood Countess in the window, and picks up a hammer and some nails, since you need to nail the corpse to put the soul back in, so you can kill it. In the only actual intelligent move, Goth Chick runs across a nail gun and grabs that instead. Hey, maybe she'll find a quad damage power-up, too! Goth Chick finds the Blood Countess, and then fails miserably because the nails pass right through the ghost. HAX! I call HAX! MORE cheating by Evil! Goth Chick does the classic Run and Stumble in an attempt to get away, and ends up dead. Hutch decides that rather than nailing the ghost, you need to nail the body. Ew, necrophilia. But where's the body? Back to the game designer, since he knows so much! Malcom decides he needs to play the game to try and limit Evil's cheating, or at least distract Evil. Hutch and HBC go in to the designer's mansion, Malcolm stays behind, saying, and I quote "I've got this punk-ass bitch motherfucker handled." This is what has to be the most awesome line ever uttered in cinema. Hutch and HBC again enter the house, and poke around. Brilliantly, they split up after Hutch hears a noise. Malcolm makes a discovery, creating another jump scare when he phones Hutch. Malcolm manages to direct Hutch through the house by navigating through the game. That's right, the house in the game is based on the designer's mansion! And it turns out that the designer's mansion is actually Geronge Plantation! GASP! HBC wanders off and finds the hidden room she discovered while playing the game, and goes in. More jump scares, and she gets attacked by the little demon girls and the Blood Countess. This is where things really get surreal. As if Malcolm saying "punk-ass bitch motherfucker" wasn't surreal enough.

Hutch hears HBC screaming, and gets directions from Malcolm on how to get to HBC, despite neither of them having any way of knowing where she is. Malcolm directs Hutch to a side staircase, which is unfortunately locked! Hutch laments that he needs a crowbar, which Malcolm drops for him.
Yes. Malcolm, in-game, drops a crowbar, and it shows up on the stairs in front of Hutch in real life. Hutch grabs it, opens the door, continues on, and runs across another locked door, which Malcolm uses a key to open. The script echoes every viewer at this point, when Malcolm disbelievingly utters "This is completely insane." They save HBC, but Malcolm gets distracted, and gets locked out of the van by Evil, who then tries to run over his character with the carriage. He barely manages to reach in and get his character out of the way, only to have Evil's shadow pass over him. Malcolm shouts what I've been saying all along: "Bitch, that's cheating, I'm not dead yet!" Yet for some reason he leaves the van and runs away. Why? I don't know. Because the plot says so! Malcolm runs, stumbles, lands in a bush, flails, and then the Blood Countess gets out of her carriage, wielding her shears. Hutch and HBC run back to the van, only to see Malcolm's Game Over screen. "GAME OVER MAN! THIS IS A BUG HUNT!" *cough* Sorry. Hutch picks some roses because they're supposed to protect you, and then he and HBC make it to the Countess's tower. HBC gets stuck in the Countess's torture chamber when a door closes, and Hutch has to go on alone. Hutch finds the body and starts nailing it. Ew. HBC is again captured by the Countess, and strung up to be bled. The Countess actually gets naked, because that's exactly what everyone wanted to see. Ass and boobs of a dead chick. And yes, you actually see everything. Ugh. Hutch finishes nailing the Countess, putting the spirit back in her body and saving HBC without breaking a sweat. However, he's now stuck in a room with the Countess, since, you know, putting her spirit back in her body means the body can get up and move around again. In a move that doesn't do anything but piss her off, he shows the Countess her reflection in his spiffy not-at-all-product-placement shiny silver Alienware laptop. She screams hard enough to make him drop it. Man, the one subtly placed plot point does absolutely nothing! at which point Hutch picks up the lighter than Asshole was playing with near the start of the movie, and lights the room on fire. Of course, since the movie made a point that Hutch hated fire, rather than being afraid of it, he then curls up and cries like a little baby in the corner furthest from the door, when all of a sudden the door bursts open and MALCOLM COMES IN WIELDING A BUSH! Wha-wha-wha-WHAT?! Yes. Remember that he stumbled in to a bush? It was a rose bush, which apparently protected him even though it didn't protect his character. HBC comes in behind and pulls Hutch out of the room, as Malcolm fends off the Countess (who's on fire at this point, remember) using a bush. They all run out of the tower as it burns merrily. Movie over, right? Nope. One last scene of the game arriving at a game store and being demo'd, and a voiceover of some people reading the opening seance. Well, those kids are probably screwed, since the Countess's body is already destroyed. Eh, they were probably assholes too, and deserved to die.

This movie is 92 minutes long, not including credits, and is probably one of the rare cases where the director's cut was worse than the theatrical release. Continuity is all over the place due to the added scenes, they look decidedly lower budget, and don't serve to develop plot or character in any way better than the original release. The plot is laughable and the characters are one-dimensional horror movie clichés. But there's some fairly creepy stuff in the beginning, and enough unintentional hilarity towards the end to make it worth a rental if you want something mockable. It's pretty much impossible to take the movie seriously after the crowbar bit, so don't bother if you're looking for a genuine scare or creep-fest. You see some boobs and guy-butt in the beginning, but that's it, so it's not good for the titillation factor either. The effects are really hit or miss. The CG really falls apart, but the practical effects are usually pretty good. The only person actually able to act worth a damn in the movie is Goth Chick, but she's very underutilized. At least she goes spitting defiance until the end. Goth Chick, I salute you! I think that's everything, so until next time, in the words of Malcolm, "I've got this punk-ass bitch motherfucker handled."

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