A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that film includes frequent references to killing and images of murder. Though most of the violent acts (stabbing, shooting, neck-slicing) are intimated rather than graphic, the bloody effects are very visible. The video game at the film's center is based on a real-life legend (a 17th-century Hungarian Countess who supposedly killed hundreds of children), and her young, white-gowned victim-ghosts appear as bloody, ravaged and broken (digitized) forms. After first murders (including a hanging), characters attend a funeral. One character lies about her family background (pretending to be of a higher social class). One early sex scene features two naked young people, one in a pig mask; the primary couple kisses near the end (typically, just when you think they should be running away!). Two characters smoke cigarettes; one smokes marijuana via a bong.
What's the story?
When a nerdishly enthusiastic player (Milo Ventimiglia) tries the unreleased video game "Stay Alive," he and two friends end up viciously murdered, a new crew gets hold of the game, including earnest Hutch (Jon Foster), dorky Phineus (Jimmi Simpson) and tech-head Swink (Frankie Muniz). The requisite girls are Phin's gothy sister October (Sophia Bush) and last minute tagalong Abigail (Samaire Armstrong). When Phin insists that they should all game in honor of their fallen gamer friend, the game provides them with muscular avatars, guns and crossbows, then leads them to a terrible place featuring a dungeon, torture, and mayhem, where they start dying in real life the ways they die in the game.
Is it any good?
Ridiculous and then some, STAY ALIVE offers the usual slasher movie set-up: young people making one wrong decision after another. Here they're up against a video game character, the "Blood Countess" (Maria Kalinina), complete with red gown and pasty face. She's based on a real life Hungarian serial killer, transferred to New Orleans (where some of the film was shot, just before Hurricane Katrina hit last year), and is accompanied by ghosts of her victims, little girls in white dresses and J-horror-styled stringy hair.
The painfully necessary romance between Hutch and Abigail slows down the action somewhat, especially as she must send him forth to fight the Countess on his own, while she stays behind in a barred room and counts off rose petals to the hackneyed tune of "He loves me, he loves me not." This just before Swink comes back from the apparent dead, to restore the endangered pretty couple. Why, we'll never know.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the relationships between friends and, in one case, sister and brother. How do these bonds lead them to investigate the murders and then get in trouble? How can video games or other media affect your sense of reality and responsibility, or your social life?
- In theaters: March 24, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: September 19, 2006
- Cast: Frankie Muniz, Milo Ventimiglia, Samaire Armstrong
- Director: William Brent Bell
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual and drug content.
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