Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Stake Land


Starring: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis and Danielle Harris.

The vampire genre is all over the place in terms of quality and very in-your-face these days, but one movie like this almost makes all of the Twilight nonsense worth it. Well, not really. But this film, just having hit DVD a few weeks back after a festival run in 2010, is spectacular.

Stake Land is set in a post-apocalyptic America overrun by vampires. It's a quiet, somber tale about people trying to get by, Hell, just trying to find a reason to want to. Despite the title and premise, while the film does kick ass, it is a very human, very emotional piece. The film follows a young man named Martin (possible reference to George Romero's incredible vampire tale) who is traveling north with a vampire-hunter known only as Mister. They're headed for New Eden, supposedly vampire free, which may or may not even exist.

As they move on their journey, they come across a nun being attacked by what seem to be two inbred hicks, but are in actuality two members of a crazed religious group called The Brotherhood. They don't kill vampires, they worship them, but they have little problem with killing people. As the film goes on, they also pick up a pregnant girl (instantly recognizable to horror fans as Danielle Harris) and a former soldier and integrate them into this found family. The family aspect too is a very powerful dynamic of the film. Mister is a father figure to Martin, but almost seems to neglect the role until dire situations in which he absolutely has to. Harris's character and Martin also have a strong, almost brother/sister bond.

The film plays a little like The Road meets I am Legend (the book) with just a taste of Zombieland. It is a far more serious, poignant film and the chosen style, especially with the western setting, certainly works. There also seems to be a coming-of-age story here. Martin is forced to become a man quicker than a boy his age usually would, because the world has gone by, and everyone needs to be capable of taking care of each other. Mister is, at his core, a compassionate mentor, though to keep the boy alive, he rarely shows it. He himself seems to be battling with what exactly his role is supposed to be.

While there's plenty of antagonists lurking the night in this flick, there's one core beast in the leader of The Brotherhood, who seeks vengeance on Mister for killing his son (one of the men trying to rape the nun when they found her). Like the best post-apocalyptic horror, this is a study of both how kindhearted and how horrifying people can become when the world goes to Hell.

All in all, this is an incredibly worthy addition to the vampire genre. Along with Let Me In, it is the best American vampire film in many years. Don't let the monster's over-saturation fool you, this is a very innovative, compelling take on the genre and a film that absolutely begs to be checked out.

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