March 13, 2006
Made after his auspicious debut, Monster’s Ball (2001), and the prestigious Miramax period drama, Finding Neverland (2004), Marc Forster’s supernatural thriller Stay (2005) is his cinematic bastard child, virtually ignored by critics and audiences alike. It doesn’t have any of the gritty realism of his first film or the elegant magic realism of Neverland.
Sam Foster (McGregor) is a psychologist filling in for a colleague. His first patient is Henry Lethem (Gosling), a suicidal college student who set his car on fire. Henry tells Sam that he’s hearing voices and in three days he’s going to kill himself. So Sam increasingly spends his time trying to get through to Henry before he tops himself.
We are less than three minutes into the movie and Forster shows off with oh-so clever camerawork that is unnecessarily showy as is the automatically oppressive soundscape that screams, “We’re trying to be edgy and scary.” If you’re going to do this kind of approach you either have to sustain it throughout (like in Se7en) or ease us into it. Instead, we get an atmospheric soundscape that sounds like bad outtakes from a Nine Inch Nails song or an obvious attempt to ape a David Lynch film.
The banter between Sam and his girlfriend (Watts) is awkward and clunky. This is only an initial indicator of the varying levels of bad dialogue, including extremely pretentious banter between Henry and Sam upon their first encounter. The cast plugs along gamely but they’re thwarted at every turn by the screenplay by David Benioff.
Another mystifying choice the filmmakers made is the suppression of Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts’ accents. The film takes place in the great melting pot known as New York City. McGregor is Scottish and Watts is Australian, so why do they have to suppress their accents into flat and neutral voices? Ryan Gosling doesn’t fare much better as it seems like he is trying to channel Adrien Brody in the way he speaks and his mannerisms – it’s all tics with little to no substance.
Stay telegraphs itself several moves ahead and it doesn’t take too long to figure out the surprise twist as Sam’s “reality” starts to unravel. Admittedly, the quality of the film does improve as it goes along and the major plot twist becomes apparent, justifying some of the stylistic flourishes that came before. Once the layers reveal themselves, what came before and how it did makes more sense. Let’s put it this way, you will get more out of Stay if you haven’t seen Jacob’s Ladder (1990).
“Departing Visions” is a featurette about people who have had near-death experiences. They describe what they saw as they hovered between life and death with pretentious inserts of images, like birds flying at sunset or shots of clouds. They should have cut all that crap out and focused on these people recounting their sometimes moving stories.
“The Music of Stay” features the film’s composer talking about the instruments and the technology used to create Stay’s atmospheric score.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
There is a scene specific commentary for five scenes by director Marc Forster and actor Ryan Gosling. Forster talks about the duality of Gosling’s character and how this movie “broke all the rules” in terms of film technique. Although, he only mentions one actual technique rule that he broke. Gosling says little except asking Forster about his craft.
Finally, there is a scene specific commentary for seven scenes by Forster, editor Matt Chesse, director of photography Roberto Schaefer and visual effects designer Kevin Tod Haug. They joke with each other and offer the occasional technical comment on how certain effect or camera move was achieved. Forster tries to keep everyone on topic but cuts them off whenever they get close to commenting on something that might explain too much of the movie.