Starring Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling, Naomi Watts, Bob Hoskins, Janeane Garofalo
Directed by Marc Forster
Of all the subgenres of horror, the "psychological thriller" has taken the worst beating by Hollywood in recent years. Offerings such as Hide and Seek, Secret Window, The Forgotten, The Jacket, and numerous others have given us big-name stars in convoluted storylines with "surprise" twist endings that most sophisticated moviegoers could see coming from a mile away. Now, at the end of a highly disappointing summer for horror fans and just before the November/December push from Oscar contenders, in sneaks Stay, a mind-bending, WTF just happened? film that thankfully is about as far removed from the aforementioned thrillers as possible. It credits its audience with enough intelligence so that every single question isn't answered and nothing is entirely black and white. It's the type of film that, as soon as it was over, had me wishing it were out on DVD already so I could watch it again.
On its surface Stay is the story of a few days in the life of Sam Foster (McGregor), a psychiatrist who is working out the kinks in his relationship with Lila (Watts), an ex-patient who survived a suicide attempt and is struggling with her insecurities as an artist. Into Sam's office – and life – walks Henry Letham (Gosling), who, in a strange parallel to Lila, is also an artist. Henry had been under the care of another doctor who has taken ill, so Sam is basically his substitute shrink. This makes Henry none too happy, and he storms out of Sam's office, only to return later and inform Sam that he intends to kill himself on the following Saturday, his 21st birthday. The balance of the film follows Sam's efforts to save Henry, all the while wondering if he himself isn't losing his own grip on reality as events seemingly repeat themselves and he encounters individuals from Henry's past who may or may not be dead – or even real.
Those of you who have seen the trailer or read a synopsis of Stay similar to the above are no doubt thinking, "I don't need to see it. I've got it all figured out." To you I say, "Don't be so sure." Things are not as they seem, and just when you think you might have an inkling of what's really happening, screenwriter David Benioff throws out a curveball. For a while I thought I was watching a film about multiple personalities, then a ghost story, and then I just forgot about trying to guess the ending. It's really the best way to watch this film; there's so much going on in it anyway that letting go of preconceived notions and enjoying the ride is a lot more entertaining than playing movie detective.
And there is a lot to enjoy about Stay. McGregor and Watts both give highly credible performances, and the supporting players are all excellent as well, but Gosling is the real star of the show. His Henry is the quintessential depressed college student, alternately playing on our (and Sam's) sympathies and driving us (and him) crazy with frustration. Gosling continues to mature as an actor with each part he plays and is well on his way to becoming one of his generation's most gifted artists.
What really sets Stay apart from most other films of this type, however, is not the quality of its cast but rather its look and style. Forster and his editor, Matt Chesse, and cinematographer, Roberto Schaefer (all of whom worked together on Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland), have given us a film that is visually stunning. Every lover of film should see Stay for this reason alone. Scenes fade into each other in ways never quite seen before. Several times I wished there was a rewind button in the theatre so I could revisit a particular scene transition and figure out exactly what I just saw. Camera angles are used to convey feelings that words cannot describe. Shooting in staircases is certainly nothing unusual, but Forster and Schaefer's use of stairs is truly inspired and dazzling. Clothing also plays an interesting role in the film, but to say any more would spoil the fun.
As I said at the outset, Stay is one film that I can't wait to see again. Hopefully the DVD will provide a commentary or two so that viewers can compare notes with the film's creators. I certainly am interested in hearing whether or not my theories coincide with theirs. In the meantime one thing's for sure: Stay is a film that will stay with you long after the final credits have rolled.
4 out of 5
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