It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The visual strategy in Marc Forster's "Stay" is so subtle you might miss it, but it provides a clue to the movie's secret. I will describe the strategy but not the secret. It involves transitions from one shot to the next, some subtle, some bold, all of them so agile we're not always sure what we've seen. On a camera move, for example, an element in one shot becomes the whole of the next shot, but it's not a closeup, it's a new location. Or, as two men walk together, they pass behind pillars and it is possible, although not certain, that while out of sight they do a left-right flip. There is the matter of repeating almost unnoticed elements: Three out-of-focus spheres in the foreground, not lit so you'd much notice them, turn up in the next shot, also out of focus, also not much noticed. And there are costume details: Choices of shoes and socks, the length and style of pants.
The strategy is not underlined. The movie is facile and quick in its editing, and I'm sure another viewing would reveal transitions I missed. Accustomed to fancy footwork in modern movies, we may think Forster, his cinematographer Roberto Schaefer and his editor Matt Chesse are simply showing off: There are lots of visual flourishes without meaning in movies, and you can see dozens, maybe hundreds, in Tony Scott's new "Domino." True, they are a style, and set a pace. But in "Stay," the visuals are crucial to the movie's point of view and ultimately to its meaning.
Audiences are not always alert to styles, or they may notice them passively, not asking what function they serve. It is possible to watch an Ozu film and not register that he never moves his camera. During a Fred Astaire dance number, you may not notice that he is always shown full frame and in long takes. What Forster is doing in "Stay," I think, is suggesting we are watching the movie on two levels, although the deeper level can be glimpsed only at a tangent, passingly.
There is so much happening on the surface and in the story, that we may get entirely involved up there, and Forster, in a departure from his films "Monster's Ball" and "Finding Neverland," would be pleased if we did. The other level is beavering away in the shadows. Occasionally he'll spring a visual surprise that has a logical explanation; his hero walks through a door, for example, and seems to be undersea, and then we realize he has simply walked into a room where one wall is a very large aquarium.