Fantastic Fest 2010: Stake Land review
In the world painted in Jim Mickle's Stake Land, society has crumbled because of an outbreak of a vampire virus that turn people in to blood thirsty and mindless monsters.
Survivors wander the land searching for food and shelter while others have decided that this outbreak is the work of God and try to spread the infection along with a good dose of religious extremism.
We follow Martin, a young man who's parents and sibling were slaughtered by a vampire creature. He was rescued by a man we only know as Mister, a crusty bastard who has no patience for kindness and has a rather low outlook on life. He becomes Martin's Mr. Miyagi of sorts, teaching him how to dispose of vamps and how to survive in the wild while they drive up north to the fabled New Eden.
On the way the team get in to some wacky adventures and pick up a few stragglers on the way, rescue a nun from rapists, get kidnapped by a group of religious nutters and fight of vampires dropped from the sky from helicopters.
There have been comparisons to The Road and Zombieland made and I can see that, especially The Road. The vampires are more like monsters rather than the elegant emos we usually get, disfigured and mindless creatures that think of nothing other than to drain you of blood. The atmosphere is good, with Mickle using back roads and sparsely populated areas to portray the desolated world the characters live in. The tension is strong and Mickle and co create genuine dread with many of the horror scenes, with a good sound design giving it an extra push and Ryan Samul's cinematography making all look very pretty in a gritty and grimy way.
The cast all do a good job, Connor Paolo goes from a 90 pound weakling to a bad ass that holds his own under the supervision of that grumpy old bastard Nick Damici.
Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis and Sean Nelson round up the cast with good performances. The script is strong on character and the action is spread well throughout. I've read that some find the film a bit slow but that's hogwash. I'm a fan of slow burners so if the characters are interesting and well played a film can be as long as it wants.
Now I haven't seen Mickle's first feature Mulberry Street, even though it's been sitting on my shelf for quite a while so I can't really say how he has evolved as a filmmaker since that. But I can say for sure that he knows what he wants and he knows how to put it up on screen. Stake Land delivers on almost all levels, there is a scene near the end that I felt was quite unnecessary and really made no sense in terms of what had gone on before and feels like it was something put in there to please the mainstream audience.
But aside from that Stake Land is a blood soaked apocalyptic vampire western that is sure to become a classic. I look forward to see more of Mickle in the future.