Say what you like about the makers of horror films, they generally have a nose for the seediness of teenhood -- the smeared crash pads, the snotty talk, the festering hormones.
In ''Stay Alive," a cheap 'n' cheerful slasher flick/promo clip for a video game that hasn't been released yet (it must be in the works), writer/director William Brent Bell demonstrates once again the genre's deep and sincere affinity for time-wasting adolescents.
A cabal of Red Bull-crazed online gamers in pre-Katrina New Orleans get their hands on an illicit preview copy of a new game called Stay Alive. Only slightly perturbed that entry into the gameworld seems to require the recital of a ghastly incantation, the gang start thumbing their joysticks and making merry with their weapons. They say things like ''Let's skip this [expletive] cinematic foreplay!" They are greasy-looking, sweaty; one of them is wearing a vest that says ''Who Farted?"
Always the way in horror flicks: These first scenes, when the characters are being tenderly established and the concept is still young, are the best.
The naughty game is themed around the bloody deeds of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, famed slaughterer of virgins. Zombie girls come groping across the flagstones, and the Countess occasionally makes a cameo with a lethal pair of scissors. Oh yeah -- the last bunch of kids who played the game all got massacred, hung upside down, and ''drained of blood."
Well, you'll never guess what happens. As they get killed in the game, the players -- who all have names like Swink and Hutch and October -- find themselves also getting punctually extinguished in real life. Can you imagine? ''Somebody ran my brother down in a horse-drawn carriage," complains the frowning October (Sophia Bush, of ''One Tree Hill" fame).
This last eventuality -- the squashing by carriage wheels of the gamer Phineus -- is actually rather a shame. As played by Jimmi Simpson, he is by some distance the best character in the movie, bellowing Air Supply's ''Sweet Dreams" as he pilots his little red car. With his phantom doom approaching, Phineus calls his friend Swink (''Malcolm in the Middle" star Frankie Muniz) -- the ''brains" of the gang -- on his cellphone: ''Dude, what was that you were saying about perceptive reality?"
Swink has indeed been going on about it, warning that the ''subconscious mind" of the gamer can mistake the game for real life. This is the metaphysical dimension of ''Stay Alive": an inquiry into the nature of subjectivity and essence. Sort of.
The hybrid of cyber antics and bayou creepiness doesn't quite jell, but it all ends bloodily, and in an efficient 85 minutes, too. I'm not complaining.