Written and Directed by Christopher James Cramer
Cinematography by Julius Sean and Christopher James Cramer
Starring Devin Brooke and Zach Kanner
Indie Film Review by Euan Franklin
Psychos have been done to death, and no filmmaker can escape that fact. Gory ones, sexual ones, mother-lovers, father-haters, axe-wielders, and puppet murderers… you’d have thought audiences would’ve grown tired of the genre. But writer-director Christopher James Cramer dares to move away from the two-dimensional depiction of psychosis and explores a softer incarnation in his claustrophobic indie film Stay.
Claire (Devin Brooke) wakes up on a stranger’s sofa, an electrified collar locked around her neck. Our resident psycho, William (Zach Kanner), watches her struggle and activates the collar – causing Claire to spasm in pain. He tells her to twirl, to crawl towards him, to take her shirt off. When she protests, he activates the collar again and a jolt of electricity scourges through her body. She is under his control. William assigns her household tasks like cooking and cleaning, and permits her to draw for pleasure. He explains that he wishes to build a relationship with her. But he soon realises that Claire won’t submit so easily.
Where the usual movie psycho commits an inventive murder within five minutes, Stay offers a paler alternative. The film proceeds with a tense patience – a world away from Freddy Krueger or Jack Torrance. William appears as a polite young man, someone you’d invite to dinner. But this doesn’t make him any less frightening. He is a controlling, patriarchal force with a charming smile. Cramer has constructed many quiet scenes around him, where the slightest enunciation is like a jump-scare. Kanner’s performance is perfect for the character – not too much, and not too little. We’re never sure about what the character is truly capable of. If you watch this film for anything, it’s for him.
This can’t be said of Claire’s character, who Cramer is not very interested in. She isn’t a hero that immediately draws you into the story, and it’s made worse by Brooke’s uncharismatic performance. She can barely crack more than one bland gesture, which matches the blankness of the white walls behind her. There are moments when the lack of emotion works, but it feels coincidental. It becomes irritating during scenes where William activates the collar and Claire is meant to be writhing in pain. Like her one indolent gesture, Brooke’s portrayal of torture is painful to watch. She only manages a few fast blinks and a weak shudder. It looks more like a reaction from a wet willy than an intense electric shock.
Unfortunately, the solid story and exceptional writing is brought down by the cinematography. Cramer and Julius Sean clearly had good intentions – a few nicely composed close-ups and innovative use of camera movement – but most of the visuals are stripped of their interest by bland backgrounds. The boring white- or cream-coloured walls make you feel lethargic, even if there’s a good scene playing out in front of them.
It’s a struggle to see why Cramer, with several short films behind him, decided to make a feature with a premise better suited to a short. Despite the scenes being well-constructed, they turn repetitive and don’t add much to the overall story. A short film would’ve had a greater impact. But Cramer has written a reasonably good script, full of original ideas, and all the bland walls in the world won’t remove that fact.