Anyone with a phobia of mines, darkness, and/or being isolated in the woods will get some chills from Dean Yurke's Stay Out Stay Alive. The film has a setting that's perfect for delivering horror, and there's a mature theme about the historically poor treatment of Native Americans underlying it. Yes, it's creepy, but it's got intelligence and empathy, as well.
The story revolves around five friends: Donna (Sage Mears), Bridget (Brie Mattson), Reese (Brandon Wardle), Amy (Christina July Kim), and Kyle (William Romano-Pugh). They go camping in the woods – a spot where Native Americans were once slaughtered. The place is among abandoned gold mines, which the intimidating Ranger Susanna (Barbara Crampton) warns them to avoid.
While walking alone, Donna falls into one of those mines, getting her leg trapped under a rock in the process. When the others go down to rescue her, they discover gold. This leads to a moral conundrum. They could stay overnight to take as much as they can carry, or they can get Donna out of there so she can receive immediate medical attention. The five collectively -- and unwisely -- decide to stay. Reese becomes weirdly aggressive, Amy starts seeing visions, and that's just the beginning of their troubles.
Stay Out Stay Alive benefits greatly from a sense of authenticity. I assume it was filmed on a set, but the mine looks completely real. That creates claustrophobia and amps up the overall tension. Yurke also continually devises new twists that put his characters in increasing danger. Everything culminates in a nail-biting finale that weaves together the realistic and fantastical elements of the plot.
The film was inspired by the Mariposa Indian War and a curse that was issued as a result. Although not a “message movie” in any traditional sense of the term, it does have a little more on its mind than many horror flicks. Incorporating that conflict between gold miners and Native Americans gives the film weight that sets it apart from similar entries in the genre.
Good performances add to the impact. Mattson and Mears are particularly strong, creating a dynamic between the women they play that pays off in a dramatically interesting fashion. Barbara Crampton, meanwhile, continues her impressive recent streak of intriguing, unpredictable characters. In her hands, we aren't sure whether Ranger Susanna is a benevolent or malevolent figure. The character only has a few scenes, yet they register strongly.
Stay Out Stay Alive takes a little time to get going. Once it does, though, the movie offers a tense thrill ride that explores a compelling “What would you do?” scenario. It sucks you in.
Stay Out Stay Alive is unrated but contains language, mild sexual content, and some violence/drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.