The film opens with a character in a video game entering an eerie mansion. He is followed throughout the mansion by a woman in a red dress, who kills him by hanging him from a chandelier. The man playing the game is Loomis Crowley (Milo Ventimiglia), and the game is called Stay Alive. Loomis later wakes up to find his roommate and his roommate's girlfriend slaughtered. He is then hanged from a chandelier and killed, similar to the way he died in the game.
The next day at work, while talking with his boss, Miller (Adam Goldberg), Hutch (Jon Foster) learns that Loomis is dead. At the funeral, he meets a girl named Abigail (Samaire Armstrong). Afterward, Hutch goes to an internet cafe owned by his girlfriend, October (Sophia Bush), and her brother, Phineas (Jimmi Simpson), both avid gamers. Hutch has received a bag of Loomis' possessions, and while looking through it, Phin finds "Stay Alive". Although Hutch is reluctant, they decide to play as a group. Abigail and another friend, Swink (Frankie Muniz) join in, with Miller playing online from his office. The game is set in a derelict mansion on Garouge Plantation, but it won't start until the six players recite "The Prayer of Elizabeth." It's a creepy request for "all who resist" to perish so that their blood might keep her young. The players create their characters and fight through a cemetery full of evil ghosts of children, heading toward a mausoleum and tower. Miller touches a rose and the game directs him to pick it. A student of the occult, October explains that undead spirits cannot move across wild roses. Miller goes down to the basement, but the door slams shut and separates him from the other players. Upstairs, Abigail enters a secret passage in a wardrobe. In the room, she locates Elizabeth's diary with the prayer inside of it. Hutch notices that all the mirrors in the game are broken. Meanwhile, in the basement, Miller finds a torture room full of undead girls. Scared, he throws down the rose which dispels the spirits. Now out of roses, the woman in red can stab Miller's unprotected character. The words "Game Over" cross the screen and the group decides to call it a night. Minutes later, the woman in red appears in Millers office and kills him by stabbing him in the neck with conjoined scissor blades like the ones in the game.
Two detectives, Thibodeaux and King, question Hutch who knew all the homicide victims. Hutch realizes that Loomis and Miller both played "Stay Alive" right before they died, and that they both died the same way their characters died in the game. Later, October researches Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the woman in red, a real-life murderer. Bathory would drain young women of blood, bathing in it to maintain her youth. Her weakness was mirrors, because she couldn't stand to see herself growing old. Elsewhere, Phineas decides to play on alone. Keeping in touch with the others by cellphone, he tells them his character has found an unbreakable silver metal mirror which repels Bathory. Escaping outside, he is chased by a black horse-drawn carriage. Before he can be run down, Phin pauses the game, so his character doesn't die. Reassured that he's safe, Phin drives to meet the others. A demonic ghost-child startles him and he drives off the road. When he gets out of the car, the same horse carriage runs him over and kills him. The survivors agree to stop playing "Stay Alive" until they can find out more about it. However, Detective King, a former gamer, ignores Swink's warning and plays until Bathory rips his character's head apart with a trap. Undaunted, King tries to find "Stay Alive" at a video store, but the clerk has never heard of it. Moments after he enters his car, King is killed the same way his character did in the game.
Swink and October stay at Hutch's, while the other two search Loomis' house. Hutch tells Abigail why he hates fire; when he was a boy, his jealous father set their house on fire. Unable to move, he had to watch as his mother was burned alive. After his father went to prison, Hutch lived with Loomis' family and knows one window is always left unlocked. Inside, they locate Loomis' cellphone and find the name Jonathan Malkus (James Haven), the creator of "Stay Alive." Swink gets the corresponding address. As King's murder hits the news, the police arrive at Hutch's house. October and Swink escape and rejoin the other two at Loomis'.
October has discovered that the real Countess Bathory was locked in the tower of her estate as punishment for her gruesome acts. She lived on for years and vowed to one day return and seek revenge. A resurrected Bathory haunted the school at Garouge Plantation, killing many girls and keeping a diary. October reveals that the only way to kill the Countess is to drive three nails into her body to trap her evil soul. October then goes outside alone to smoke. She sees the countess enter a house that is still under construction and follows her. Once inside, October tries shoot the countess three times with a nail gun but this proves to be ineffective due to her being transparent. She tries to flee but a chain wraps around her ankle and she is hung upside down. Hutch and the others head over to the construction site to save her, but they arrive too late and October's throat is slashed by the countess, which leaves Hutch devastated. Since nobody was playing the game, the survivors realize that, once it has begun, the game can play by itself. The remaining three decide to search the house at Malkus' address. Swink volunteers to stay at the van and play the game on his laptop to distract Bathory, while Hutch and Abigail explore the house. They soon realize Malkus' house is actually on Garouge Plantation, Bathory's estate. Moreover, as he plays, Swink discovers he can cause items in the game to appear in reality.
Swink leads Hutch through the cemetery towards the tower, while Abigail is drawn to the closet and secret passage she'd found earlier in the game. In the hidden room, she finds the blades used by Bathory, who then attacks her. Hutch hears Abigail screams, and Swink guides him through the house to the closet. In the game, he throws roses at the Countess until Hutch arrives. The Countess begins to cheat and locks Swink out of the van, while her carriage rides towards his character. Swink breaks a window and moves his character just in time, but Bathory comes to kill him in real life, even though his character is still alive. Swink ditches the van and runs across a field, with Bathory's carriage close behind. He falls into a patch of rosebushes as the Countess exits her carriage, with her blades in hand. Hutch and Abigail return to the van to find the laptop screen marked "Game Over" and Swink's character dead.
Grabbing the laptop, Hutch and Abigail gather some of the wild roses. They then cross the cemetery to a mausoleum-type passageway leading to the tower. As a group of undead children pursue them, they drop numerous roses and make their way into Bathory's torture chamber. When Hutch starts up the staircase, a heavy door with a barred window slams shut, separating him from Abigail. She urges him to go after Bathory's body and perform the ritual, while she stays trapped with one last rose. Hutch reluctantly leaves and Bathory's phantom attacks Abigail. Hutch climbs to the top of the tower and finds the completely preserved body of Elizabeth Bathory. While Abigail fights to live, Hutch hammers three nails one by one into the inert body. When he finishes, the evil spirit stops attacking Abigail, and reanimates Bathory's body. Retreating, Hutch knocks over an oil lamp, spilling oil across the floor. Recalling that the Countess hates mirrors, Hutch uses his reflective silver laptop to repel her. Overcoming the fear of fire, he sets the room ablaze. Just then Swink, still alive and carrying more roses, bursts in with Abigail and rescues him. As Countess Bathory's body burns, the three walk away from the tower.
Meanwhile, in the video store, the shelves are now full of just released "Stay Alive" games. Intrigued, the employee puts a copy in the PlayStation 2. As the video game starts, voices are heard reciting Elizabeth's prayer. The evil phantom of Countess Elizabeth Bathory is then seen gazing out her tower window.Jon Foster as Hutch MacNeil
Frankie Muniz as Swink Sylvania
Samaire Armstrong as Abigail
Jimmi Simpson as Phineas Bantum
Sophia Bush as October Bantum
Wendell Pierce as Detective Thibodeaux
Rio Hackford as Detective King
Milo Ventimiglia as Loomis Crowley
Adam Goldberg as Miller Banks
Alice Krige as the Author
Maria Kalinina as Elizabeth Bathory
James Haven (only in the Unrated Director's Cut) as Jonathan Malkus and the Maker of the game
Billy Slaughter as Rex
Nicole Oppermann as Sarah
As of June 29, 2006, the film opened at #3 in the U.S. box office, eclipsing its production budget with $11.7 million that first weekend. It ultimately grossed a total of $23.08 million in the United States. The movie has grossed a total of over $27.1 million worldwide.
The theatrical version received negative critical reviews. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 24 out of 100, based on 17 reviews. Rotten Tomatoes holds this film with a 9% "rotten" rating.
In the Los Angeles Times, John Anderson commented that "'Stay Alive' spends a lot of time inside the video game system, and what will terrify the audience very early on is the realization that there's better acting in the video game than on the big screen." Gregory Kirschling of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a D- and commented, "this dopey movie keeps flouting its own rules, so that one character who dies in the game gets to live, while poor suckers get offed for real even though we never saw their Game Overs." Meanwhile, Variety concluded: "Seldom is there anything close to real passion or panic on display here from cast members."
The DVD was released in the United States on September 19, 2006. It was made available in an unrated edition (100 minutes) and a PG-13 edition (85 minutes). The 15 minutes of new unrated footage include a new character and subplot. Like Miramax Films, the unrated edition features more adult material. As of December 2011, 874,827 DVD units have been sold, bringing in $13,636,869 in revenue.