Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Stay

Director: Frazer Lee
Writer: Frazer Lee
Producers: Frazer Lee, Alan Stewart
Cast: Daniela Finley
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener

The Stay is a slickly crafted nine minutes of spookiness with a neat-o central performance and adroit direction which frustratingly stumbles in the narrative department. It’s good, it’s very good, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Nevertheless, as the first film directed by Frazer Lee since 2002, I can’t help but recommend it to you.

Either side of the millennium, Frazer directed a pair of critically acclaimed shorts, both starring Sir Douglas Bradley: On Edge (adapted from a Christopher Fowler story) and Red Lines. In the 13 years since then he wrote Jason Fragale’s 2010 short Simone and was one of the many hands who made heavy work of the Panic Button script. The IMDB throws up a few other curious credits I didn’t know about: production assistant on legendary, unfinished, Alex Chandon scripted oddity Siamese Cop, script editor on a 2009 Norwegian horror short called Palazzo Massacre and best boy on Urban Ghost Story(!). Mostly he has been writing novels: six to date including The Lamplighters (which was shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award) and a novelisation of Panic Button.

Now comes The Stay. Daniela Finley (who was in a Dizzee Rascal video) gives a bravura, solo, dialogue-free performance as a young woman who arrives at a holiday cottage for some me-time. A bit of supper, a glass or two of wine, snuggle under the blankets – lovely.

What sets the spookiness in motion is the discovery of a shattered, circular, black mirror. Initially spotted in the bin, this item recurs in both broken and unbroken forms throughout the film. Unlike some mirror films, there is actually something spooky to be seen in the mirror, and Frazer’s direction of these creepy moments ably demonstrates his mastery of the genre.

Individually, the various moments work brilliantly but there doesn’t seem to be anything tying them together. The ending, while effective, doesn’t relate in any noticeable way to what has gone before (except maybe the loose concept of a mirror image, I guess). The plot is basically ‘woman arrives at cottage, weird things happen, the end’. Even in a film running just eight and a half minutes, there should be more than that. The absolute minimum, smallest thing that can constitute a narrative is two connected events. A cause and an effect. Something has to happen because something else happened. But as with some other shorts I’ve reviewed here recently, there’s really just one thing here: a random sequence of weird events in a cottage. At least there is a thing, the brief story progressing smoothly and satisfyingly, unlike some of the disconnected, unsatisfying stories I’ve recently watched.

But within that story, each of the spooky, mirror-related events seems disconnected from the others, like variations on a theme rather than a progression towards a crescendo. This is less of a problem in under nine minutes than in a feature, but it’s still a little disappointing to reach the end credits without a revelation of How It All Fits Together and What It All Means.

Frazer has roped in his old buddy Alan Stewart, who DPed Red Lines and On Edge, as cinematographer and to also share producer duties. Stewart also lit Lab Rats and the Quatermass Experiment remake and has pulled second unit duty on a bunch of notable stuff including The Woman in Black, Spectre, Pan, Inkheart and both Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films. Lee David, Tom Tatchell and Stuart Pitcher provided the smoothly integrated and subtle visual effects.

Shot over three days in February 2013 in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, The Stay received its world premiere at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta in May 2015 after a lengthy period of post-production. In December of that year, Frazer released the film on DVD with a solid hour of extras (plus a bare-bones VOD release).

The Stay is one of those films I feel bad about for not being more effusive over. It’s extremely well-made and undeniably atmospheric. If there had just been a distinct narrative arc, it could have been even better. Still, it’s great to see Frazer Lee back in the director’s chair and I hope we won’t have to wait 13 years for his next movie.

MJS rating: B+


  1. Paid to see this on Amazon without realizing that there was nothing to it. Your review is longer than the "movie." Big disappointment.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Susan. Caveat emptor, I guess.