Having an impressive visual style as a filmmaker is very important to me as a movie lover. Without it, we’re left with nothing to admire with our eyes, and since film is a visual medium first and foremost, when a script isn’t perfect, the material can be saved when the filmmaker has a distinct vision. Here’s one movie that not enough people are familiar with: Marc Forster’s extra-trippy thriller Stay. I’m not sure if it’s an entirely successful motion picture, but so much of it is so interesting, and it’s a near constant marvel to experience on a conceptual level, with one scene transitioning effortlessly and seamlessly into the next, giving off an extremely heightened, dreamlike quality which results in a movie that feels as if it’s been created in one long vertiginous take, sort of like Birdman on a bad acid trip. Released to extreme critical hostility except for a few passionate supporters, this mind-bender quickly disappeared from the handful of theaters it was dumped in during the fall of 2005, ultimately grossing less than $5 million domestically(!), and that’s a shame, because it’s one of the most stylish films that I can think of, with a whammy of an ending that’s both powerful and unique. Taking influences from Vertigo, The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and with Forster even going on record at one point in saying that the works of Nicolas Roeg heavily inspired his aesthetic on Stay, this is a film that’s been art directed to within an inch of its life, and vigorously directed with an elaborate and dynamic aesthetic that propels every single shot. This is a work that continues to fascinate me on almost every level, but I can’t stress enough how intoxicating I find this film to be from a visual stand point; it’s a true wowser that’s flown so far under the radar as to almost make me sick.
The film’s brilliant cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, who has shot almost all of Forster’s always eye-catching work, must’ve had intensive meetings with his editor, Matt Cheese, as the filmmaker constructed the film to feel like a fever dream puzzle, with each shot interlocking with the next, using dissolves and morphing techniques to constantly startle the viewer and make them aware of the fact that nothing is as it seems within the tricky narrative. What’s also fantastic about Stay is that the intense visual style is in service of the story being told. Screenwriter David Benioff crafted a narrative that I’m not 100% sure I totally understand, even after multiple viewings, but I’m fine with that, because I enjoy getting the chance to discover new secrets that this film seems to be constantly holding up its sleeve. This is a tough one to explain. Watch the trailer. Or read Roger Ebert’s ***1/2 review; he boils it down better than I could ever attempt. The film stars Ewan McGregor as a paranoid psychiatrist suffering from odd dreams, a baby-faced Ryan Gosling as his suicidal patient, Naomi Watt’s as the doctor’s reluctant girlfriend and ex-patient, and Bob Hoskins, having a ball with a devilish glint in his eyes, as a blind, possibly unstable friend of McGregor’s who indulges the doctor in games of chess. Stay discusses various themes all revolving around life, death, the dream state, true love, and what might happen when we depart this planet. The film has the same weird, eerie quality of Denis Villeneuve’s ultimately superior head-scratcher Enemy, but even when Stay is possibly a bit to convoluted for its own good, there’s no denying that it has been made with supreme technical skill, and that there’s plenty to dissect even if all of the pieces don’t quite add up on first or second or third or fourth or fifth viewing.