There’s nothing about camping that interests me. I admire those that love it and enjoy the exploration of the fresh outdoors but I’ll be the first to admit that I would rather stay in the comfort of my home than roughing it outside for a few days. Furthermore, I’ve seen enough horror movies to know the implications of what will happen when the worst possible scenario plays out which is exactly what happens in the horror film STAY OUT STAY ALIVE.
Based on a true story, STAY OUT STAY ALIVE centers around a group of friends who travel to Yosemite for a weekend of camping, until an earthquake exposes a long-buried mine. As the film opens, it gives viewers some background on how the government forced Native American tribes out of Yosemite during the gold rush of the mid-1800s which becomes an essential plot point in the story. As the group begins to work together after one of their friends finds themselves pinned under a rock in the mine, jealousy and secrets begin to bubble to the surface as unimaginable treasure is found that becomes the catalyst that could destroy them all.
STAY OUT STAY ALIVE is writer/director Dean Yurke’s directorial debut. Though it follows a rather consistently predictable storyline, it doesn’t mean there aren’t moments that shine. Yurke could have easily fallen back on a slasher type figure stalking the group throughout the vast Yosemite landscape, but instead decided to focus on a supernatural element intertwined with historical elements. This added levity to the believability of what was happening to the group of friends once they found themselves down inside the mine. Furthermore, I think it was important that Yurke didn’t shy away from mentioning the atrocities that were perpetrated against Native Americans during this period of time. However, his approach in tackling how the Native Americans reacted to these atrocities did not, I think, translate well on film.
Where I felt Yurke really shined was in his ability to not always show the horror. I enjoyed how he built up tension, especially the moments within the mine and allowed for the creeping sensation of claustrophobia and panic to build. I’m not someone who is frightened of enclosed spaces, but while I watched the film I could feel a tightening in my chest as the mine was washed in darkness and terrifying shadows danced across the rock walls. I definitely think that Yurke has a talent for building suspense and capturing those feelings of fear and dread, I just think he needs to fine-tune aspects of his writing to help with smoother transitions within the storytelling.
I was happy to see the legendary Barbara Crampton in the film as I’ve been thoroughly enjoying her resurgence within the horror genre these last few years. She portrays Ranger Susanna, which made me instantly think of Stephen Foster’s “Oh! Susanna”, who is the voice of reason as well as the authority figure that our five protagonists instantly disregard because of course they do. Out of the five, I think my favorite character was Reese (played by Brandon Wardle) as he had the most transformative arc in the movie and caused the majority of the tension between him and his friends. He’s not a likeable character but I personally found him to be the most fleshed out of the bunch. Though their storylines became super predictable, I did like the relationship between sisters Donna and Bridget (played respectively by Sage Mears and Brie Mattson) especially when tensions ran high and make or break decisions had to be made. Unfortunately, Kyle and Amy (played by William Romano-Pugh and Christina July Kim) weren’t as memorable and I think it’s because they weren’t given a lot to work with. Their concern for their friends came off as being more whiny and annoying even though they were trying their hardest to be the ones grounded in reality.
In all, I think as Dean Yurke continues to fine tune his craft the films he creates will only get better. STAY OUT STAY ALIVE has some interesting concepts that utilized true facts with supernatural mythology and though the majority of the pieces were there, it just needed more momentum and additional fine tuning to really stand out among its other horror contemporaries. All that said, you won’t find me visiting any abandoned mines or taking any gold coins for the keeping any time soon.