STAKE LAND, 2011
Stars: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis, Traci Hovel,
Martin was a normal teenage boy before the country collapsed in an empty pit of economic and political disaster. A vampire epidemic has swept across what is left of the nation's abandoned towns and cities, and it's up to Mister, a death dealing, rogue vampire hunter, to get Martin safely north to Canada, the continent's New Eden.
Usually in vampire movies, the vampires try to be elusive and keep out of the public eye. They’re usually an underground society that are only active in the shadows of the human world. Why? They’re super strong, fast, hard to kill, and they can systematically increase their numbers with just a bite. The exhaustible food supply may be an issue for the more sentient vampires, but the primal zombie-like “Stake Land” vampires don’t seem to think too far ahead.
“Stake Land” takes place after the vampire apocalypse and the human race is in the twilight of its existence. The remaining humans have either huddled together to build small towns surrounded by danger or have become wandering nomads in an attempt to find safety. The sparse details spoken or read from out-of-date newspapers allude to the idea that the world was on the verge of political and economic collapse before the vampire epidemic. If the nations were in a more stable state, the vampire takeover may have been averted.
“Stake Land” tells the story of Martin (Connor Paolo) and Mister (Nick Damici) as they travel north to try to find the mythical “New Eden.” Martin is a teenager whom saw his family slaughtered by vampires only to be saved by the grizzled vagabond, Mister. Martin is an innocent young man whose biggest problem should be talking to girls, but instead, has to worry about surviving in a hyper-violent vampire infested planet. Mister is a man of mystery with a strong moral compass and a working knowledge on how to kill vampires.
“Stake Land” is a human tale of survival. It deals with real emotions in a fantastic world. Action and vampire scares are not the foreground of the storytelling. The maturity of Martin and how that relates with his relationship with Mister is the crux of the story. It’s an intriguing take on a familiar genre and it’s far more interesting than watching a band of guys fighting zombie-vampires for 90 minutes.
Another great character in this film is the world itself. After the fall of civilization, we see how America reacts. Economics revert back to a bartering system, religious factions embrace the vampire menace, and martial law leads to functioning rural towns or violent bands of thieves. Without a sufficient form of long distant communication, mythes and rumors spread like high-school gossip. Mister himself is a victim of his own self created legend. Signs read “Save Us Mister” as people clammer for help from the legendary vampire hunter.
Jim Mickle directed this film and co-wrote it with Nick Damici (whom also played the role of Mister). They successfully created an atmospheric world with an abundance of heart in its storytelling. This is a brutal film and not in the sense that it’s gory. Characters die abruptly and harsh decisions are made for the sake of survival. Characters are victims of circumstances and don’t escape peril due to conventional storytelling. It’s probably closer to what would actually happen if their were feral flesh eating vampires roaming the landscape.
This is not “Zombieland” even though their plots are almost identical (replacing vampires for zombies). This is a dead serious interpretation of the post-apocalypse. It may not be as bleak as “The Road,” but it’s not a fun bit of action horror. It does suffer from some stereotyped tough-guy dialog and a dash of overdramatic filmmaking, but it’s scarce. Overall, it’s a well acted and well made collaboration of writing and direction. It may not be perfect, but its above and beyond most of the material similar to it.
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