The scary yarn as morality tale is a human tradition that stretches all the way back to ancient times, when we’d huddle around campfires and hope we were safe from the creatures that crawled around in the dark. From folklore to fairy tales to books and now movies, morality or cautionary tales are a huge part of the way we share stories, partly to entertain, partly to share wisdom. Stay Out Stay Alive is definitely part of that tradition, although it proves to be an imperfect medium for its message.
Stay Out Stay Alive is the story of five friends who are heading out into the great outdoors to go camping and experience nature. Things turn dicey their first night out, when sensible loner Donna (Sage Mears) decides to go for a stroll… at midnight… in woods she’s never before explored. Shockingly, this turns out to be a bad idea, and she falls down a mine shaft and traps her foot. When the rest of the gang eventually find her, they also discover a nice surprise: there’s gold in them thar hills! But how to get it all before nosy Ranger Susanna (Barbara Crampton) pays their campsite a visit. And when some of our heroes begin to experience strange hallucinations and personality changes, you know shit’s about to get real.
Stay Out Stay Alive punches far, far above its weight in terms of aesthetics. Directed by Dean Yurke – who spent decades working in visual effects – takes full advantage of its remote locale, and brings the atmosphere in spades (and pickaxes). Sadly, the same deft touch doesn’t apply to the writing or acting which, while never downright awful, are consistently ropey. It’s hard to get completely engaged with a character’s descent into madness when they’re already acting bizarre and inconsistent long before any supernatural shenanigans take place. That said, the film’s third act is a winner, with Yurke’s visual panache in full flight, and a couple of the twists might manage to surprise even jaded genre veterans.
A gorgeous-looking flick in search of a better script, Stay Out Stay Alive is a mostly engaging experience. It’s not, perhaps, the most polished of cautionary tales, but a solid enough genre entry with a sting in its tail.