Stay Out Stay Alive (2019)
★ / ★★★★
“Stay Out Stay Alive,” written and directed by Dean Yurke, attempts to be a morality tale of greed, but once all the pieces are in place to get its rather standard and uninspired messages across, the work gets mired in one horror cliché after another: screaming at walkie talkies, falling over while on the run in a forest, shadowy figures blending in the background, personal revelations meant to inspire sympathy. It’s all so tired. From the moment the characters find themselves stuck in a hole filled with gold, the picture goes nowhere. With a running time of just above an hour and twenty minutes, it feels much closer to two hours.
The only time the picture comes alive is when Barbara Crampton is on screen. She plays Ranger Susanna who wishes to find the five college campers (Brie Mattson, Brandon Wardle, Christina July Kim, Sage Mears, William Romano-Pugh) and warn them about an upcoming storm. Ranger Susanna may be in the film for a total of ten minutes, but she is curious because she possesses story in her eyes. When she looks at somebody, we wish to know what she’s thinking. Her experience as a ranger comes through, and so does her respect for the land with a tragic history.
When Amy (Kim) and her friends stumble upon the nineteenth century goldmine that Donna (Mears) has fallen into, questionable—at times downright nonsensical—behavior begins to pile up. An example: Donna’s foot becomes lodged in a rock, but she, along with the others except for Amy, insists that no help be summoned due to the fact that there is gold to be excavated in the mine. There is not one person who brings up the idea that they can simply return to the site once Donna has been rescued. This lack of common sense serves the plot, you see. And we must endure it.
But I say we deserve better, especially in situational horror movies like this one. An argument can be made that if characters are written smart and they prove to be resourceful yet still fail to extract themselves from an increasingly sticky situation, that is far scarier—certainly more engaging—than a movie that plays itself dumb and thus expects the viewer to be on that level. Its self-imposed limitations have nothing to do with the small budget. It is all about the imagination of the screenplay and how that is translated on screen.
The hammy acting is the least of the picture’s problems. In fact, I didn’t mind it. In a movie so devoid of creativity, at least the performers try to make something out of near nothing. Other than the scene-stealing Crampton, I quite enjoyed Wardle as the boyfriend whose greed gives the impression as though he has been possessed by evil down there in the mines. While the performance is not special by any means, at least the character doesn’t dissolve into the background like the mousy Kyle (Romano-Pugh) and the naive Bridget (Mattson).
I wished we were given more images of the redwood forest—as it is without the unimpressive visual effects like gusts of wind, spirits roaming about, various tremors—and the contents of the diary that’s been sitting in the mine for several decades. When it lets our minds fill in the gaps of the story’s mythology, a whiff of a superior movie can be detected. But alas.