Keeps You in Your Seat--but Why?

I am a huge fan of the original Twilight Zone, Rod Serling’s ground breaking sci-fi anthology series that changed the face of television forever, and gave new meaning to the term ‘twist ending’. Many film makers have used this formula since then, most notably M. Night Shayamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village) who has made a career out of it. Stay is another entry in the genre, a twisty-turny tale that toys with our perception of reality, but seems to raise more questions than answers.

Submitted for your approval: psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) has a new patient, one Henry Letham (Ryan Gosling). Henry is a suicidal college student, who has declared he will kill himself in three days on his twenty-first birthday. As Sam investigates Henry’s life for answers, strange things begin to happen. Why does Henry claim the blind Dr. Leon Patterson (Bob Hoskins) is his dead father? Who was that woman in Henry’s empty house who thought Sam was Henry? Why do events seem to repeat themselves exactly? How does Sam’s girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts) fit into all this?

Stay is a freako-head trip from frame one. Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) peppers his movie with extreme angles, harsh lighting, freaky camera moves and otherworldly transitions. He wants to keep you off balance, and he succeeds. The editing is also frequently abrupt, and consistently breaks cinematic rules of continuity. This movie is not scary, per se, but there is a consistent feeling that something bad is about to happen (or is happening?). It’s a very effective technique, and keeps with the movie’s weird spell it puts you under.

Typically, most movies will treat the audience like idiots, spoon feeding them everything so that no plot detail will be missed. Stay suffers from the opposite (similar to, but not as extreme as last year’s Primer)--not enough is explained. When the big reveal comes at the end, I had a hard time figuring out how it supported everything that had come before. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that the movie was pretty complex and challenging, but the ending was too simple. It was confusing and unsatisfying--despite the intrigue it creates.

All the actors here are suitably intense, with the ubiquitous McGregor again perfectly fitting into his everyman role. We identify with him, and care what happens to him. We want him to help the poor Gosling, who effectively looks and acts like death warmed over. Naomi Watts is also good as the concerned girlfriend who has had her own experiences with near death. I also like the scene with the almost unrecognizable Janeane Garofalo--she totally creeped me out. I’m impressed Forster could assemble such an A-list cast for this unconventional, dark material (backed by a major studio, no less).

Stay weaves such an interesting web, that perhaps no ending would have worked. What could possibly explain what had gone before? Maybe that’s part of the point (which seems like cheating, really)--I just wish it would have been more obvious.


Anonymous said…
I do agree that the ending could've tied up more "loose ends". if you were to draw a line from the beginning, the car crash, to the end(the aftermath of the crash) there were many scenes that would be concidered extra baggages. From what I've learned no imformation should be random but there were so many that didn't help the plot at all. or is more that the sub plot were just undeveloped. Its hard to say, I try not to be too over confident when giving my opinion.