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Thursday 2 October 2014

Stay (2010)

Directors: Álvaro López León and H R Paternain
Stars: Javier Bermejo and Sara Marrón
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon IV in Tempe in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
As the title suggested, Stay has stayed with me but hardly for the reasons that the filmmakers intended. I first saw it while screening submissions for the Phoenix Fear Fest and it didn't play well to me at that time on a relatively small screen, with its host of clichés leading to an inevitable conclusion and precious little scares showing up along the way. It apparently had enough for Chris and Jim to select it for programming though and watching it afresh on the big screen at MADCAP Theatres was a revelation. What felt like the same ol' same ol' on a small screen blistered off the big one and got a huge response from the audience. Not only did it work at scale, it worked magnificently, the scariest short at the festival by far. Every setup paid off, every sound built the tone and every visual added to the creepiness. Sure, the clichés were still clichés, there being less of a plot and more of a situation, the sort of film you expect to end with the title and be followed by ninety minutes of feature, but it taught me that small screens suck for screening.

We're in a car in a clearing in a forest in Spain. The young lady in the back seat doesn't know where they are either, but she has a boy in there with her and a cigarette to pass around, so she's happy. His parents are leaving for a flight, so they're just chilling until they can head home and party the night away. Maybe they'll start the party early in the back seat, but they don't quite get that far. He gets out to pee and she stubs out the cigarette, discovering in the process that there's another one in the ashtray with lipstick on it. We might think we have a story about to kick off, but we're quickly whisked away from that possibility when his head rolls off his shoulders. Something is moving around outside, enough to make the girl shut up the car, the camera to rock a little in anticipation and for us to get ready for the jump scares that we know have to be right round the corner. The only question is which corner, especially if this film plays on a system with decent sound.
Everything here hinges on the tension that builds as she tries to figure out what's out there and what it's got in store for her. Nothing here is surprising: the slowed down movements, the uncertainty, the shimmy of the camera. The shots are cut together faster and faster until, well, you need to watch the film yourself to find out where it takes us but the final shots are the best in the whole movie and the bigger and better the system you're playing it on the more you'll appreciate how it gets there. Watching afresh a few years after I last saw it, it feels almost like a musical performance, one played on the nerves of its lead actress, Sara Marrón, as much in the actual score, which is built out of sound effects. Technically Javier Bermejo is top billed, but it's Marrón's show throughout, even as her character must feel as out of control as she has ever felt. My guess is that this was created as either an experiment or the beginning of something bigger. It has too little substance otherwise to stand alone for long, just a freaky exercise in building tension.

Stay can be watched for free on YouTube.

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