Director: Jim Mickle
Writers: Nick Damici & Jim Mickle
Starring: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris, Michael Cerveris, Sean Nelson
Producers: Derek Curl, Larry Fessenden, Adam Folk, Brent Kunkle & Peter Phok
Running Time: 98 min
BBFC Certification: 15
With Twilight bringing vampires back in to the mainstream along with a horde of naff imitations on the big and small screen, I've been avoiding the bloodsuckers as much as possible recently. Luckily for the sub-genre it's not all bad news though – films like Stake Land can still come along to show us that there's life in the fanged foes yet.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth after vampires have infected most of the population, all nations of the world have fallen to their knees and the survivors have regressed to living in rarely-civilised tribes or misguided religious cults. We focus on a teenager, Martin (Connor Paolo) who is saved from the fate his family suffered by Mister (co-writer Nick Damici), a world-weary vampire-hunter. The two form a sort of father-son relationship as Mister lets Martin tag along on his journey north to 'Eden', supposedly an area free of vampires and the often more problematic religious zealots. Speaking of which, along the way, as the two add more to their 'team', the group cross paths with the disturbed religious leader Jebediah who becomes hell-bent on tracking down and killing Mister.
Stake Land does a great job of taking well-worn and occasionally cliched elements of vampire, post-apocalyptic and zombie movies and refashioning them to work beautifully in a film that feels fresh despite it's occasional familiarity. By taking a moody The Road-like atmosphere (though slightly less bleak) and adding a healthy dose of horror and action, this becomes a classy genre offering that hits all the right notes. It's dreamy score and excellent cinematography gives the film a certain elegance, lifting it above most low budget horror movies in terms of production values.
It's not a slow-paced art house experience though, director Jim Mickle knows what makes a genre film work and delivers in terms of tension, scares, visceral violence and enough emotional content to make you give a shit about the film's characters. It has it's flaws – what stood out for me was the final showdown between Mister and Jebediah, which is unnecessary and wildly over the top, making for a wobbly shift in tone at the film's apex. A well-handled coda brings things back to Earth though.
There's enough that can be looked into thematically to keep film theorists happy too with regards to the way people react to their circumstances. Although it's hardly new territory, the film has a fair amount to say about faith and hope in times of adversity as well as politics in the face of devastation. I don't think it's meant to be a real think-piece, it's definitely made by and for lovers of genre movies, but as Romero's Dead saga has shown us, a little meat and metaphor on the bones can go a long way.
Stake Land is a great example of strong, assured execution turning what could have been a throwaway flick into one of the best genre movies of the year.
Stake Land is released in the UK on DVD & Blu-Ray on 17th October by Metrodome Distribution. The 2-disc DVD set & 1 disc Blu-Ray are stacked with features. You get 2 commentaries which are great – full of interesting and funny anecdotes. You also get a 'making of' documentary, 'director's diary', 'VFX featurette' and a series of webisodes which give added character back-stories – nice additions that are still as well made as the feature. My copy didn't have the featurettes, but the commentaries and webisodes (as well as the film itself) are enough to make this a must-buy.
The trailer for Stake Land: