Dir: Marc Forster. US. 2005.103mins.

After the mainstream success of his charmingtearjerker Finding Neverland,Monster's Ball director Marc Forstergoes dark and edgy again with Stay, apsychological thriller infatuated with its themes of death, identity, realityand illusion.

Forster makes the most ofhis newly earned creative freedom and delivers a stylish, visually inventivefilm that takes some chances and works in fits and starts. But it's also a filmthat lapses too often into predictability or pretension - and one that endswith a twist that's as much of a letdown as it is a surprise.

Audiences are likely to bedivided. Fans of mind-bending psychodramas like David Lynch's(somewhat comparable) Mulholland Drive should help Stay perform fairly well in big cities with upscale cinemas. Butthe Regency Enterprises production, set for a wide US release through Fox thisweekend, will be a very tough sell to broader audiences with less patience forthis kind of gloomy cinematic puzzle.

The content and tone mightprove more broadly enticing when Stayrolls out into the international marketplace (mostly, again, through Fox) earlynext year. Star Ewan McGregor should also be more ofa pull internationally - as he appears currently to be in The Island - and Forster's involvement may help pique extra interestin his native Germany. The film recently played the Rio De JaneiroInternational Film Festival.

The script bynovelist-screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour) opens with the introductionof the film's intertwined protagonists, New York art student Henry Letham (Gosling) and his new psychiatrist Sam Foster(McGregor).

Apparently traumatised aftera car crash on Brooklyn Bridge, Henry claims to have killed his parents andannounces that he intends to kill himself on the eve of his upcomingtwenty-first birthday.

Sam, whose girlfriend andformer patient Lila (Watts, from the aforementioned Mulholland Drive as well as The Ringand its sequel) once tried to kill herself, startsdigging into Henry's background, hoping to find a way to avert the suicide.

The film's style announcesfrom the start that things are not necessarily what they seem. Off-kilter setsand odd costume choices give many scenes a vaguely dream-like feel and Forsterand his regular director of photography Roberto Schaefer underline the effectwith unusual compositions and shot transitions.

The visual style serves asan omen of what's to come in the story. As his birthday approaches, Henrybecomes increasingly distraught, claiming that Sam's blind mentor (Hoskins in anicely played cameo) is in fact his dead father. Sam seems to be losing touchwith reality as well, most memorably during a visit to Henry's supposedly deadmother. Gradually, the two characters' identities begin to blur, with Sam beingtaken for Henry and Henry seeming to haunt Sam.

The conceit works wellenough at first, as long as the film is raising more questions -Whose realityare we seeing' Is Henry deluded, or is it Sam' - thanit needs to answer. The style and themes are reminiscent of the work of sixtiesauteurs like Bergman, Antonioniand Kubrick, but Forster manages to keep the feelcontemporary.

Eventually, however, themystery starts to become frustrating and the film becomes more predictable anda little trite (an inserted scene from Hamlet,for example, just seems like literary name dropping).

The climactic twist comes inthe final 10 minutes. And while it may be open to interpretation, whichever wayit's taken it's neither intriguing enough nor satisfying enough to justify the precedingninety minutes of teasing obfuscation. In fact, it makes the whole film seemlike little more than a stylishly staged shaggy dog story.

The performances are mostlysecondary to the film's look and style. McGregor, though, does bring some realhumanity to his role, as his character slides from self-assurance intouncertainty.

Production company
Regency Enterprises

US distribution
20th Century Fox

International distribution
20th Century Fox International

Executive producers
Bill Carraro
Guymon Casady

Arnon Milchan
Tom Lassally
Eric Kopeloff

David Benioff

Roberto Schaefer

Production design
Kevin Thompson

Matt Chesse

Asche & Spencer

Main cast
Ewan McGregor
Naomi Watts
Ryan Gosling
Janeane Garofalo
Bob Hoskins.