Director: Jim Mickle
Cast: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris
Review by Brian M. Sammons
This film came out of nowhere and smacked me upside the head. Before watching it I had heard of it only in passing, but nothing more than that. Based on the title alone, I was sort of expecting an action-y flick with most likely lots of laughs tossed in for good measure. You know, sort of like Zombieland. However, this film could not be further from that zomedy as you can get. Now I loved Zombieland, so does that mean I hated Stake Land? Let’s find out.
In a world far more I Am Legend than that Will Smith movie of that name, we are introduced to a boy named Martin (in joke for George Romero fans?) living in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by vampires. Thankfully these bloodsuckers aren’t moody, sexy, lovesick, brooding, misunderstood or sparkling. They are nasty, animalistic, ugly, and completely horrific. In short, they are my kind of vampires. Martin’s family meets the business end of a vamp’s fangs and he almost does the same, when a man known only as Mister saves him. So begins the adoptive father and son’s journey from the Deep South to the promised safety of New Eden in the north.
The pair goes on an epic road trip, along the way coming to isolated communities of survivors and buying their way in by showing off the fangs they’ve taken from the vamps they’ve wasted. They continually meet (and often lose) new allies on a regular basis, including a motherly nun, a pregnant young woman, and (I hate to say it) a token black guy. Come on, it’s pretty obvious, especially when at a town full of survivors the only other black person you see in the entire film seeks him out through a crowd to dance with him. Good thing too, because if we start allowing “their kind” to mix… Sorry, but I did think that was kind of creepy.
That questionable bit of casting and/or writing aside, the film rarely missteps anywhere else. Well… except maybe for the stereotypical crazy Christian cult who worships the vampires and acts as the films main antagonists. Yep, in a world full of killer undead monsters, Christians are worse. Just once, can’t the overly religious crazies be Jewish? Or how about Buddhists? You never hear anything about evil, crazy Buddhists, what gives? Oh and I would have included Muslims in this, but then I’m sure they just would have been the stereotypical Hollywood terrorists.
As for my feelings that this would be an action/comedy flick, I could not have been more wrong. Stake Land is a somber, morose, and at times almost a depressing film. Feel good movie of the year, it is not. Bad things happen and sometimes they happen to good people. Also I don’t think there was a single joke, ironic or otherwise, in this entire film. It very much reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but with more vampires. So if that bit of sunny cinema got you down then this movie may very likely do the same.
However, if you’re looking for a film that takes the idea of a world overrun by the thirsty undead seriously and does it’s best to provide plenty of dread and jumps, then this refreshingly old take on vampires may be exactly what you need. Lastly, the overall quality of this movie was a totally nice surprise. Going into Stake Land I was expecting cheesy direct to DVD efforts, but instead got an honest to goodness real movie, with believable acting, more than capable direction, memorable characters, good special effects, and a nicely understated apocalyptic world to explore that looked broken and dying without cribbing from The Road Warrior or A Boy And His Dog.
If you have yet to see Stake Land during its very limited theatrical run then rejoice, for Dark Sky Films has just brought it out on DVD. I thoroughly enjoyed this new vampire film and I honestly can’t remember when the last time I could say that was. Consider this one highly recommended.