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Spirit Camera Retrospective: Stay Alive

With the arrival of the Nintendo 3DS title Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, Shock will be rolling out a series of retrospectives that look at tales of terror that tie together technology and horror.  Games, cameras, phones, computers, televisions…you name it.  We kick things off with Stay Alive, the film from director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside), which, quite literally, spelled out the evils of one particular video game.

Parents and other concerned adults have long warned that playing video games, especially violent ones, could have adverse effects on young people. The characters in William Brent Bell’s Stay Alive discover that excessive gaming can definitely be hazardous to your health. 

With the rapidly increasing popularity of first-person shooter games and the endurance of the horror genre, it was inevitable that someone would make a movie about gamers getting killed right after they played a horror game. 

And the game really is front and center in Stay Alive. Not too many movies prominently feature a “Video Game Consultant” credit. 

The action picks up with a video game tester named Loomis (Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia) playing a mysterious game called Stay Alive. Its origins are unknown but it quickly freaks out the tester, especially after he ends up dead, hanging from a rope. Before long a dark shape manifests itself and kills him in exactly the same way he was killed in the game. 

The main character, Hutch (Jon Foster), and his friends are quickly established as dedicated gamers. He provides his boss (Adam Goldberg with some tips on how to win a Silent Hill game. He talks about the beta testing Loomis was doing on Stay Alive. And his coping method following his friend’s death is hosting a game night. 

Of course the group plays Stay Alive, a game they are allegedly not supposed to have because it’s not available for sale yet. The background of the evil force in the game is explained during gamer night. 

The evil force has an interesting history. Her name is Elizabeth Bathory. She lived on a plantation outside New Orleans 200 years ago. She murdered young girls and before her death vowed to return and continue killing. 

The players must recite a prayer before they can play Stay Alive. This allows Elizabeth to resume her killing spree. One by one she murders the players in the exact same way they die in the game. 

Eventually, of course, people would probably stop playing a video game if they knew it would result in their death. Elizabeth’s powers are not limited to what happens in the game. She is able to cross over into the real world. And as the players find out the hard way, not playing the game does not mean they are safe. The game plays by itself. 

Technology in Stay Alive is not all evil. At one point, a character plays the game to save his friends. What he does in the game happens in reality. This allows him to guide Hutch through the house on the plantation as he attempts to save love interest Abigail (Samaire Armstrong) and destroy Elizabeth. 

Technology serving as a conduit for evil is nothing new, but in this case the technology was birthed by evil. While investigating the origins of Stay Alive, Hutch discovers that the address for the game developer is actually home to Elizabeth’s plantation. So, evil itself is responsible for creating the game. 

In certain ways Stay Alive is already dated. At one point a character remarks that voice activated software is next generation. The computers and communication devices/methods also date it. And comparisons to The Ring are valid. It’s not as if it was the first movie to showcase people being killed by evil technology. 

However, the video game angle gives it a little freshness. The game is smoothly integrated into the movie and seems like it would be fun to play. You understand how the characters could get hooked on playing it and the camaraderie they feel playing it together. Before it turned on them technology was something that brought them together, that they bonded over. It didn’t isolate them from the outside world. 

That doesn’t mean the filmmakers don’t see a downside to technology. Facebook was an infant when Stay Alive was released. There were no iPads or iPhones or eBook readers. Though it felt like many people were wholly addicted to technology by then, the movie suggests that that there is no escaping the overwhelming prevalence and power of technology. It is all around us and we are powerless to slow its advancement. 

The ubiquitous nature of technology means that you are not immune to its effects regardless of where you are. Sitting on your couch playing a video game? You’re still vulnerable. Surrounded by all of your friends? Sorry but you’re still not safe. You might as well eschew all modern technology and move to the middle of nowhere. Just make sure you don’t take your cell phone or camera with you.