Stay starts in well. Marc Forster evokes a cool disquiet during the initial exchanges between Ewan McGregor and Ryan Gosling. Underneath everything, there is a building sense of mystery Ryan Goslings predictions that it is going to hail later that day; the fortune cookie that Ewan McGregor opens containing the exact words that Gosling mentioned earlier; Gosling hearing voices before people appear; he insisting that Bob Hoskins is his father; the mysterious voice on the answer phone. Ryan Gosling gives a good haunted performance one where you can clearly see that beneath a layer of cynical indifference he is masking a disturbed confusion in trying to understand what is happening. On the face of it, Ewan McGregor does not seem the most naturalistic actor to come to mind playing a concerned psychologist but gets into the part well, nailing the cool mannered assurances and exchanges perfectly.
Marc Forster has a coolly sophisticated visual style. There are some subtle fades and dissolves between scenes where the last image of one shot morphs into the start of the next. The mystery gradually develops with an increasing disquiet all with the tempo of the film never rising above the same eerie mannerdness vignettes of strangers passing, images of figures outlined in the foreground, or odd disjunctions like the street scene with workmen lifting a piano and a kid losing his balloon that keeps being repeated over. There are some spooky scenes with Ewan McGregor visiting Ryan Goslings mother (Kate Burton) where she starts becoming non-coherent and then bleeding from a wound on her head, before in the next scenes the sheriff reveals that she died some months ago. Or a scene when Ryan Gosling realises that the people and cars in the street are frozen still watching him bleed from his head. Forster casts known actors like Bob Hoskins and Janeane Garofalo in small parts but in ways that hold a jolt we are not used to seeing either actor in such a physically decrepit state. There are some extremely lovely shots of New York streets covered in rain and blurred like the colours had started to wash out, and especially the drift towards the crash scene at the climax as the sky starts to rain in streamers of light that gradually become artful colour fades.
[PLOT SPOILERS] It gradually becomes apparent that Stay is a conceptual puzzle film that unfolds into a deathdream twist ending. Moreover, one that you cannot deny is highly reminiscent of The Sixth Sense (1999). [Although, if anything, Stay is more like the deathdream fantasy that we saw in Jacobs Ladder (1990) where the recognisable world kept blurring between real and the afterlife. The deathdream fantasy where everything was revealed to be being had by someone at a car crash scene was also done before in Soul Survivors (2001)]. Alas, the end revelation is the point where all the beautiful atmosphere that Marc Forster has built up starts to fall apart on a conceptual level. When it arrives at the grand explanation of what is going, all that we get is another Sixth Sense-styled twist ending that reveals the protagonist of the show was dead all along. This has become too much of a cliche in recent years to be effective anymore. It is fairly obvious where the film is heading with this and the disappointment with David Benioffs script is that he never does anything more than serve up the same old same old.
Moreover, it is a revelation that never explains any of the mystery like why Ryan Gosling believes that he is preordained to kill himself. Nor does the ending pull together any of the reality disjuncts that take over the latter third to make them mean anything. The various characters throughout turn out to be no more than random bystanders at an accident scene. Furthermore, the story is told from the point-of-view of Ewan McGregors psychologist where it is he that becomes drawn into the reality disjuncts, yet the deathdream fantasy is being had by the dying Ryan Gosling. The shift of point-of-view characters cannot help but make the end revelation seem contrived. Stay has the feeling of a film that has a great conceptual build-up but falters at the unveiling where the denouement has either been forced on the film or not thought out. It kills of what could have otherwise been an excellent genre work.
(Nominee for Best Director (Marc Forster) and Best Cinematography at this sites Best of 2005 Awards).