Fantasia 2023 Review: STAY ONLINE, Harrowing Screen Life Thriller in a Time of War

Editor, News; Toronto, Canada (@Mack_SAnarchy)
Fantasia 2023 Review: STAY ONLINE, Harrowing Screen Life Thriller in a Time of War
Kate is living in Kyiv, Ukraine when Russian invades. As part of the volunteer effort they have been given one of the thousands of laptops donated to support the war effort. Before they begin to reformat the computer for soldiers on the front lines a young boy calls online. They are the son of the laptop’s previous owner, who went missing during the Russian army’s invasion in Bucha, west of Kyiv. Hesitant at first, Kate agrees to help find the missing parents. Grounded in their apartment however, they have to enlist the help of their family and friends out on the front lines to help reunite the family.  
Eva Strelnikova’s screen life thriller, Stay Online, offers a multi-point view of the war on Ukraine. With Kate at the center of her film as a citizen volunteer she is connected to children and parents separated by war wether by circumstance or the conflict directly. They are connected to the front line, the support line and the homefront. All information flows through them and from them. 
The screen life format, born out of necessity due to production restraints (never mind a war just started) turns out to be advantageous because this is how everyone around the world has been keeping up date on the war since it began. We watched on our computers, tablets and phones as the invasion began and the war in Ukraine has carried on since. This has also been the way that everyone in Ukraine and those with family in Ukraine have stayed to connected to loved ones in the war torn country. 
The frustration you felt any time a program loaded or you lost a connection is loaded with dreaded consequences here. Lives are impacted with every key stroke. Pop ups in the corner from news feeds keep a tally of the toll that the war is having on the people of Ukraine. Air raid warnings pop up front and center on the screen prompting Kate to run to the bathroom until the warning passes. This is the war happening in real time, right in front of us. 
Streinikova does pull away from the screen, breaks away from the frame of the monitor, to quietly watch Kate as they are glued to the laptop, searching for information, waiting for answers. These are mostly moments of reprieve for the audience, to break away from the immersiveness and busyness of the format and make us intimate onlookers, to study Kate’s face as they process the flow on information on screen. As the stakes are raised it is also necessary to break away from the screen in order to let Kate emotionally respond to events as they happen. 
Liza Zaitseva is terrific as Kate, the young woman who was given the laptop, tasked with reformatting it for the war effort before they connected with the son of its previous owner. They are the heart and soul of Stay Online. With a performance driven by fear, anger, despair and sadness Kate is the manifestation of everything ever felt by anyone since the war began. Kate is all of Ukraine. 
Kate messages between their mother at home and their brother - it is the only way they can remain connected to each between the air raid sirens. They stall the transfer of the laptop to the defending, home army once they connect with the young boy. There are even moments of unrequited affection for another who is working with the volunteers getting resources where they need to be and helping others escape the war zone. They also conduct their own war of terror, online, in a way we have never seen before. 
Where other screen life thrillers could have been improved by their subjects getting up and away from their computers Kate is confined to their apartment, often hiding in their bathroom whenever the air raid alarms come. It helps with the tension as they can only watch in real time what everyone else they love is doing to reunite the boy with their father. By and large, everyone Kate is in contact with throughout this thrilling and emotionally taxing tale is the physical manifestation of her will and drive to reunite this other family. It may be all that they have but it is enough. 
Like the connectiveness of the online world, Streinikova's Stay Online creates a narrative that connects us to the people of Ukraine that is not a sanctioned, sanitized or edited news article in our news feeds. It gives emotional heft to the story of the war, a story of emotional and physical sacrifice to save the lives of a people caught in a war they did not deserve. Delivered in a format that we are steadily comfortable with from our every day routine it is still a human story that allows us to emotionally connect to the people of Ukraine more than ever before.

Stay Online

  • Eva Strelnikova
  • Anton Skrypets
  • Eva Strelnikova
  • Oleksandr Rudynskyy
  • Ekaterina Kisten
  • Olesya Zhurakivska
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Eva StrelnikovaFantasia 2023Liza ZaitsevaUkraineAnton SkrypetsOleksandr RudynskyyEkaterina KistenOlesya ZhurakivskaDrama

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