Stay Online

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It was not until 2014 when Crimea seceded from Ukraine and joined the Russian Federation that things became even worse, in 2022. News outlets worldwide reported of invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the violence that followed it, making it a much-anticipated event to almost every set of eyes and ears. A year and a half later, little has changed – the war between the two countries continues unabated with an escalating refugee crisis and rising death toll throughout the region.

Ukrainian film is underrated because historically it has been a vehicle for storytelling across cultures but poorly recognized by critics. Stay Online is the first Ukrainian movie since Russia-Ukraine war began in 2023, which touches on issues pertaining to such tragedies. Though mostly in Ukrainian and Russian languages with some instances of English here and there, all texts on screen are translated for readers who cannot read either language. Directed by Yeva Strielnikova, Stay Online (originally titled The Day I Met Spider-Man) was co-written by Strielnikova herself alongside Anton Skrypets.

The thriller film twists and turns through its runtime that is a little under two hours long supposedly inspired by volunteers fighting on behalf of Ukraine amid a conflict. It premiered at Fantasia Film Festival, which can make it somewhat experimental due to how one-such story was chosen to be told. One such movie may be Liza Zaitseva as lead character who shouldn’t be missed in 2023.

For those who have been following world events over the past year will find that Stay Online starts off familiar: montage of footage cut from various presidents/leaders discussing what has been happening in Ukraine are shown thus far in this documentary-style feature film. From start, it’s clear that conflict has consequences too; juxtaposing celebratory moments with graphic images showing dead bodies or victims maimed by violent acts. Cameras do not immediately go to frontline in Stay Online. The film’s protagonist sees a computer-based view of the world and its people. Every other thing will follow suit, whether it is videos that are texted through a messenger or direct video calls made.

Katya is shown sharing her screen on a PC whose introduction begins the story. After one short conversation with a photographer friend, what she does next becomes clear: she has obtained this man’s passport photo as well as contacting his mother using Russian-speaking social media sites. But while doing that however, the rest of the film kicks off when a small boy messages her laptop via Telegram thinking that it is his father. In fact, this laptop had several users before reaching her.

Katya against her better judgments picked up a video call from the boy, and one of the women watching him reveals that they are at a refugee center. Danger is everywhere in war zones, every corner could be the hideout of an enemy, air raid sirens periodically go off, reminding everyone that safety is not guaranteed even in Kiev (the capital city). She wanted to revenge; hence she takes photographs of his corpse on Ukrainian fields by using the passports of a dead man then after abusing them for belonging to the other side of war and propaganda machine continues with harassing his mother and wife.

However, despite her ulterior motives Katya finds herself thinking about little boy only to discover that his father was going to buy him a Spider-Man costume before this war started. That’s simply step number one towards trying to get this kid’s parents back who went away on the day prior. The boy Sava is promised by her that she will find his parents but Stay Online moves deeper into drama if it seems like she cannot make good on that promise showing how everybody including Sava and Katya are affected by war and violence.

One of the intriguing parts in this movie itself being its heroine: Katya. Together with Ryan her accomplice she collects pictures of dead Russians for her own purpose only then once calls him short for failing to forward enough photos during the movie. He sends back images of Ukrainians being evacuated and aided by volunteers like himself as an answer. When he says this it is at that moment when he explains to her how even spreading such images could also assist their cause instead of those depicting lifeless bodies.

She refuses but later turns into something more than what she originally was in the film — someone out for revenge. Unlike Russia soldiers whom she calls names and shares their families’ contacts with hers too are her intentions; this is revealed by having some kind of feeling nurtured not only among feelings but rather one kind of sadness. When she looks at pictures of Ukrainians, she doesn’t feel much, but when given a dead Russian it is a different story for Katya.

However, everything has to catch up eventually. Conflict isn’t just that simple as people often find themselves in gray areas. Although the medium of telling the story through Katya’s laptop is good for the movie’s overall message, it can actually be a hindrance especially when compared to the traditional film arrangement. Technical decision like this may make some audience members feel slightly distanced; however; long after the events of this film are over and its final credits have disappeared from screen, those characters remain hauntingly present.

Irrespective of this, despite making choices and having motives that can be seen as destructive in some way, and which pushes people further into their opinions about Ukrainians notably the Russian mother who happened to be difficult upholding a certain belief at hand — she becomes representative of something larger than her as a character. She has made an awesome decision since she is one of the volunteers including her brother and Ryan. It was never a must for them to do what they did. In the end, that’s a particular brand of bravery that’s subtle in cinema.

As such, fans of Missing might get thrilled on how Stay Online appears. Most of Stay Online happens on a computer screen like both Missing and Searching and Katya is confined in small apartment somewhere in Kiev where she only interacts with other characters through video chats, texts or voicemails. Notifications on the sidebar give grim updates about air raids, refugees and death tolls all over the country sometimes timed to somewhat match events happening onscreen.

This adds another level though because there are many characters who are not proximate to violence among them: Katya herself, Sava and her mother. When events happen around these different spheres it also reveals that their present situations consist mostly of fear during an air raid rather than confronting Russian invaders face-to-face. However, Stay Online shows us what happens when these spheres overlap online. Without the father’s laptop ending up in the hands of Katya then several key events taking place throughout the movie may never have taken place.

Stay Online provides an authentic harrowing space where it does not shy away from showing how far things have gone in a world increasingly interconnected through text messages online forums etcetera. Consequently, in this film we see Russians embodying isolation by being cut off from communication while condemning their Ukrainian counterparts as Nazis who deserve violent deaths that are brutal for assuming ideologies to be theirs’. Initially it was anger and hatred like this that compelled people such as Katya but the tale of resilience and fellowship that is woven is what makes films like these memorable.

Stay Online though a contemporary war film is highly effective in its approach thus managing to create something that is not only captivating but reflects the human spirit in general. Some times we leave everything behind and risk our lives for strangers or a baby who needs help so desperately, without even thinking about it. Finally, when this movie ends, we can realize again gradually that sometimes heroes are those who are not always obvious upfront. All these things make Stay Online hugely worthwhile with a formidable punch within its running time; thus adding up to the genre’s roster.

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