Stake Land, 2010.
Directed by Jim Mickle.
Starring Connor Paulo, Nick Damici, Danielle Harris and Kelly McGillis.
A vampire epidemic has swept across the nation and its up to vampire hunter Mister to escort young Martin to Canada, the New Eden where they can be safe.
Stake Land is like Zombieland with vampires instead of zombies. Oh, and darkness and sinister tones instead of any funnies. The similarities really lie in the lead characters. A young guy, somewhat misguided and a bit lost (you’ll find out why pretty quickly), and a badass older man who has the knowledge of the world, and a kickass technique to get rid of the bogeymen. The dynamic between them draws so close to Zombieland that it’d be very surprising if there was no inspiration from there.
Stake Land begins with a voiceover. A method I’m not particularly a fan of, and unfortunately a method used repeatedly throughout the film. The voiceover gives us a little context into how the world has all gone wrong, and how most of the people who were in it are now dead due to an outbreak of vampires – whose origins aren’t really ever discussed. But that’s fine, we can just about live with that. Our lead character, Martin, tells us he met Mister, the badass guy I discussed earlier, back in a time only a flashback (which would have worked better at the absolute beginning of the film) could explain. The two have been travelling for some time apparently, but it’s not really inherently clear how long – because one minute it seems to be that they have spent months together, but then you get the impression its much less because Mister is actively training Martin to fend off the vampire horde.
The vampires themselves are quite a sight. No sparkle in the sun, no attractive humanly deceptive appearance. These guys look like zombies, with fangs. There’s nothing human about them, and they certainly don’t transform from a beautiful form like some might expect from previous vamp flicks. The special effects and make up people have really done a great job here, although perhaps would have benefited from lessening the similarity to undead brain-munchers. Afterall these guys are here to suck your blood. Although, it does seem to be suggested that they enjoy feasting on a bit of flesh too. It’s definitely worth noting here that the gore effects are also quite good.
What’s quite interesting about Stake Land though is some of the commentaries it attempts to make. There’s religion, a tinsy bit of politics, and of course the expected social commentary on the break down of civilisation. Nothing terribly unique here really, and some of the comments are a little lacklustre and seem pointless.
It’s take on religion though is a little more complex, and quite flawed. A group, named the brotherhood are a sort of secondary enemy to our lead group of heroes (which steadily grows as the film progresses). They are basically a group of religious nuts, even referred to as ‘Christian crazies’ by one of the lead characters. However, they appear to be more of a cult group – a group which represent the negative pockets of society who in a pot-apocalyptic situation such as the one presented to us, take it upon themselves to rule the land, and make people suffer. They even force a nun to have sex with them. As society has essentially fallen apart, there’s no one to stop them. On the other side of it, there are some hopeful pockets of society addressed, with small towns barricading themselves, in a little mecca of sorts. However, naturally the brotherhood disrupt this heaven in a particularly interesting way.
Generally, Stake Land struggles a little to flesh out all its characters. Some actions of particular characters are not always justifiable on the information we do know about them. For example, Mister is mostly seen as a stern character, but randomly becomes softer, without any real reason as to why. It’s a small problem, but it does make you question one of the actions he takes towards the end of the film. Several of the characters we come to know over the film, of course will not make it to the credits. Some unexpected killings are actually a credit to the making of the film, as it’s a welcome change to being able to predict who gets to live.
The style of film making here is quite simplistic, with no arty attempts, heavily relying on the plot, which brings a suitable amount of twists and turns. The soundtrack is quite good, with melancholy piano tones, which adds very well to the atmosphere, but as the piece of music played it so short, and often repeated, it is seen to be lazy, as some more interesting instrumentation could have done nicely in certain scenes.
Overall, Stake Land is an interesting take on what some (including myself) would call a bit of a dead genre. It brings plot, gore and good ideas – but something is missing, and it feels like it could be a heart.
Stake Land is released on DVD on October 17th.
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