OCTOBER 3, 2008
Right before I moved out to Los Angeles, I went to a double feature of Doom and Stay, which had 4 letter monosyllabic titles but otherwise nothing else in common. And apparently, I was one of very few people in the entire country to buy a ticket for the latter film, as it has one of the worst opening weekends ever recorded for a wide release, according to BoxOfficeMojo. Also, at a reported budget of 50 million (with a gross of less than 4 million), that would make Stay one of the biggest failures of all time (again, for wide release) in terms of investment to return percentage. And yet, 3 years later, director Marc Forster is at the helm of the next James Bond movie. Movie jail my ass!
But the fact that the film has been completely ignored makes it all the more satisfying that it’s actually pretty solid. You’ll never run into the Juno/Little Miss Sunshine style backlash of Stay, because not enough people will ever see it for it to become omnipresent and thus annoying. And since it’s not like, a mindblowing, amazing film, I don’t feel the need to try to drum up support for it as I do with other unjustly ignored films (such as Halloween III).
I DID think it would make a good entry for OE2 though, because Forster continually breaks continuity and the 180 rule for dramatic effect. Frequent readers of the site will know that there are few things that annoy me more than when a director can’t be bothered to follow the 180 rule (which is making sure that if you are filming two angles of a conversation, the camera is always on one side of the room, so you don’t end up with two shots where the actors are seemingly facing the same way), but in Stay it’s done correctly. Spoilers follow!
See, the whole movie is just a fever dream/hallucination of Ryan Gosling’s character, which he suffers after a horrific car crash. And in turn, the onlookers become characters: Ewan McGregor’s good Samaritan becomes his shrink, Janaene Garafalo plays the woman on the other side of the car crash in reality, but in the dream she’s his former shrink. Every minor character in the film reappears at the end, a sort of twisted psychological thriller version of Wizard of Oz. So, back to my point, breaking the 180 rule, fucking with continuity, and all the other little things that make you feel uneasy are actually all the cinematic equivalent of things in a dream that don’t make sense. If you think of a dream, things are always jumping around without any logic, so Forster did a great job of presenting that skewed POV here. It’s actually among the most realistic portrayals of a “dream world” I’ve ever seen in a movie, because it’s damn near impossible to get a grasp on anything.
Of course, yeah, that means that movie is a bit baffling at times. Some things are never quite explained in any way that I can understand (Naomi Watts’ character suddenly discovers that all of her paintings are from Gosling’s character – huh?). Part of the problem is that even though it’s technically all in Gosling’s head, there are several scenes in which he is not present, which is a bit of a cheat. There is also a lot of misleading imagery to make you think they are going for a Fight Club deal where McGregor and Gosling are perhaps the same person, which as far as I can tell, is there only to mislead you and nothing else. Psychological red herring?
Forster also uses that goddamn body mount cam that I hate. I just don’t understand the point of this camera angle (where a camera is strapped to the actor’s chest, pointing up at their face). It’s neither a 1st person nor a traditional 3rd person perspective; it’s like, well, a 2nd person perspective. And it’s annoying as hell. Hitcher, Wrong Turn 2, Hostage; all movies that would be improved had it not been for a brief use of this lame camera setup in each of them.
Only gripe though. Otherwise it’s just an enjoyable, fast paced, and ultimately sad movie in the vein of Jacob’s Ladder. Gosling is always interesting to watch*, and the supporting cast is made up of familiar faces (Bob Hoskins!) that manage to make themselves memorable despite only having a scene or two each. And it’s a really slick looking movie; had it not tanked I would imagine it would be an oft-requested title for Blu-Ray. The 50 million apparently all went into set design and the like (love the endless spiral staircase at the college), not to mention the gruesome (and realistic) car crash. Definitely use the slo-mo function to appreciate the makeup/stunt work seen in that sequence.
I should note that the DVD tries to sell it as a horror film (a supernatural one at that!), but I don’t consider it one at all. It’s not scary, no one seems to be in any danger, there are no monsters... I know it’s the go-to phrase for a studio trying to avoid their film being labeled a horror movie, but it really IS a “psychological thriller”. Maybe they figured it was the only way for folks to check it out. And here I am, reviewing it on a site called Horror Movie A Day. Irony, you rock.
Anyway, even though I just spoiled it, I hope some of you check it out and enjoy it. And if you don’t, well, it’s still better than Doom, right?
What say you?
*At the premiere party for Craptivity, I saw Gosling and, in addition to telling him how much I enjoyed this film, explained how he was my wife’s “freebie”. He seemed genuinely touched by at least one of these facts.