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Inspired by true events, “Stay Out Stay Alive” is a chillingly convincing tale of what happens when the darker side of human nature takes over.

Would you risk everything to be rich? Human beings are vulnerable creatures. Despite all the good things we can accomplish, we can be stupid, selfish and greedy. If we allow ourselves to be taken over by these darker impulses, then friendship and love can fly out the window in exchange for the obsession to have something we want. Especially the dream of being rich. In STAY OUT STAY ALIVE, we explore what that dream does to a group of friends and what the consequences of greed can do.

Every year we hear about people exploring abandoned mine shafts and getting killed in the process. Signs that say “Stay Out, Stay Alive” are from a program trying to bring awareness of the dangers of this risky activity. But does it keep everyone out? Nope. Would be adventurers think they are indestructible and ignore the warnings. Mix that with the lure of gold and a Native American curse, and we have a recipe for disaster and of course a horror film!

The debut film from writer/director Dean Yurke, Stay Out Stay Alive is inspired by this warning and a story about the Gold Rush of the 1850s.

Prospectors coming into the Yosemite Valley exploited and drove out the natives living there. The tension built, and it finally escalated into violence and bloodshed. The Ahwahnechee tribe Chief Tenaya put a curse upon the land. So going camping, mine exploring and especially removing anything from that land would be severely frowned upon by the spirits of that place.

Of course. this calls for five friends to go on a camping trip to that very location. Not necessarily an unfamiliar trope, but these kids are almost likable, and good actors. So I didn’t start out by wanting them all to die, as I do with some of the ‘cabin in the woods’ type films. They are warned about the dangers of abandoned mine shafts, by horror icon turned park ranger Barbara Crampton. She plays the archetypical harbinger role, and it was great to see her in this!

Once set up in their camping site, we realize there is some tension between some of them. The one lone girl decides to go for a late-night walk. Even the fact that there are bears in Yosemite would keep me from wandering at night. But they were also warned about the curse and the mines. Not to mention that at night, well you could just get lost.

So, our 5th wheel girl Donna (Sage Mears) immediately crashes down into one of the abandoned mine shafts and gets her leg stuck. When the others find her the next day, they find something else in the mine. Gold!

Greed and obsession take hold fast when they realize that all their dreams could come true if they just take a little of the gold. Donna is willing to wait for medical care. Reese (Brandon Wardle) is possessed by the desire for gold, and he convinces the others to stay and work, regardless that their friend is hurt. Bridget (Brie Mattson) worries about her sister Donna, and Kyle (William Romano-Pugh) is just a worker bee for Reese.

Reese becomes a manic ringleader and demands everyone get to work. His descent into paranoia and madness made him my favorite character. When he turns homicidal, things go downhill fast. The look in his eyes is a very stark raving mad Jack Torrance (The Shining) look!

Eventually secrets start coming out. Their bad sides start to show, and even the realization that they are in a tomb doesn’t stop their desire for gold. Only one girl, Amy (Christina July Kim), isn’t affected and seems to want to just get Donna to the doctor. She goes and gets the ranger. But that turns out to be a bad idea in spades!

The film has a big budget look for a low budget indie film, due to Dean Yurke’s years of professional visual effects experience.

The acting was convincing, and it was cool to watch the cast deconstruct into their baser impulses of greed and arrogance. The climax is suspenseful. And I admit I was loving it when karma kicked their asses! When everything falls apart, the supernatural curse takes over. And no one wins except nature, who takes everything back the way it was with a wall of water to wash it down.

What would I do in this situation? Would I give up everyone I love for money? It’s the big question we are left with at the end. That’s the scariest part. The uncertainty of who we really are on the inside.

Stay Out Stay Alive made its World Premiere at the Portland Horror Film Festival June 5th, 2019. Follow updates from the film on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StayOutStayAliveMovie/

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