"Stay Alive" is really just a variation on the "It's all coming true!!" school of postmodern fright founded by Wes Craven -- even if the source of evil here is a piece of unholy software. But, despite some hackneyed qualities, good-looking if undistinguished cast and the seemingly fresh twist on an old tale should lure the usual fans of mayhem.

An anemic attempt to update the horror genre’s imperiled-teens-meet-bloodletting-uber-fiend substratum, “Stay Alive” is really just a variation on the “It’s all coming true!!” school of postmodern fright founded by Wes Craven — even if the source of evil here is a piece of unholy software. But, despite some hackneyed qualities, helmer William Brent Bell’s good-looking if undistinguished cast and the seemingly fresh twist on an old tale should lure the usual fans of mayhem, murder and the medieval out to the malls for this Buena Vista release.

The source of all “Stay Alive” evil is Elizabeth Bathory, a reputed inspiration for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and one of 16th-century Eastern Europe’s leading sadists. In the script by Bell and Matthew Peterman, Bathory is headquartered at a Louisiana plantation rather than in Hungary, but, more importantly, she’s inside a video game called “Stay Alive,” which acts out in real life the gruesome murders that players think are only part of the game.

Hutch (Jon Foster) was scarred in an arson fire when he was a child. His tendency to be wherever a murder has been committed has placed him under the suspicious eye of Detective Thibodeaux (the always solid Wendell Pierce).

If solely by process of elimination, Hutch is destined to be the last possible suspect left, unless he can save the nubile Abigail (Samaire Armstrong) and thwart Ms. Bathory’s evil schemes.

Seldom is there anything close to real passion or panic on display here from cast members who all seem to resemble someone else: There’s a James Spader look-alike, a Parker Posey look-alike, a tall, balding Steve Buscemi look-alike and a Frankie Muniz look-alike. No, wait, that IS Frankie Muniz.

“Stay Alive,” despite its new-technology conceit, is a reworking of devices that have powered projects from “Harry Potter” to “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.” Its attraction is strictly its novelty of possessed computer games, but, given the almost constant flow of horror films that have appeared even this early in the year, that’s more novelty than most.

Production values are good, save for a brief sequence of hand-held camerawork which would literally have audiences, were they airborne, reaching for the small paper bag.

Stay Alive

Production

A Buena Vista release of a Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment and Endgame Entertainment presentation of a Wonderland Sound and Vision and Stay Alive production. Produced by McG, Peter Schlessel, James Stern, Matthew Peterman. Executive producers, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Douglas E. Hansen, Becki Cross Trujillo, Adam Del Deo. Co-producers, Erin Stam, David Manpearl. Directed by William Brent Bell. Screenplay, Bell, Matthew Peterman.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Alejandro Martinez; editor, Harvey Rosenstock; music, John Frizzell; production designer, Bruton Jones; art director, Alan Hook; set decorator, Kristen Bicksler; costume designer, Caroline Eselin-Schaeffer; makeup, Michele Paris; sound (Dolby), Whit Norris; supervising sound editor, Kelly Cabral; visual effects supervisor, Kent Seki; visual effects, Pixel Liberation Front; stunt coordinator, Steve Ritzi; associate producers, Anna Mastro, Adolfo Martinez; assistant director, Eric Fox Hays; casting by Mark Bennett Reviewed at the Mann's Plant 16, Van Nuys, Calif., March 24, 2006. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Hutch - Jon Foster Abigail - Samaire Armstrong Swink - Frankie Muniz Phineus - Jimmi Simpson Detective Thibodeaux - Wendell Pierce October - Sophia Bush Miller Banks - Adam Goldberg

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