The mid-2000s were an interesting time for the horror genre—outside of the ’90s boom, but not quite into the resurgence of the next decade. Creators and studios were looking for something different as they wanted new ways to cash in on the movie-going audience. That led us to Stay Alive, a clever crossover into video game horror. Let’s take a look at what makes Stay Alive, which was released on March 24, 2006, so fun to look back on fifteen years later.
Stay Alive is directed by William Brent Bell (The Boy 2016) and is co-written by Bell and Matthew Peterman (The Devil Inside 2012). After a beta tester dies playing a new underground video game, his friend and their crew play the game and start to research the strange deaths that mount up around them. While the dialogue is very much a capsule of 2006, the trope-laden characters lead the audience into nostalgia reminiscent of their own teenage game nights. This film stars Jon Foster (Suits TV series), Samaire Armstrong (The O.C. TV series), Frankie Muniz (Malcolm In The Middle TV series), and Sophia Bush (The Hitcher 2007). The cast are truly staples of this time period and do a solid job getting the tension across.
The video game they’re playing is essentially a real life recreation of the Elizabeth Bathory murders of the 1600s. They use a unique style to garner tension as you see the accurate-looking game characters moving around in the game world trying to survive. The places and results of the game mirror what happens in real life, so the stakes are high in both places. The game graphics look cool for the time period, and the set used for the real Bathory house makes the perfect location for the film’s climax. The characters must figure out how to stop Bathory before the game is over, and we get a barrage of different jump scares along the way.
Stay Alive is far from the first to go into video game territory. Brainscan did it wonderfully in 1994, and we’ve seen it copied on a lot of teenage horror anthology shows. Horror and video games often go hand-in-hand (check out our writers reviewing the scariest video games they’ve played here), but Stay Alive is well paced and mixes the two arts with a fine balance. It’s no surprise that this film is still an easy watch after fifteen years.