SFF 2011 - STAKE LAND Review
A vampire epidemic has swept across America and seemingly the rest of the world. What is left of the nation's abandoned towns and cities are traversed by Mister (Nick Damici), a vampire hunter, and his protégé and companion Martin (Connor Paolo) a boy he saved. They both work their way up north to the Promised Land in Canada, otherwise known as New Eden.
Stake Land is a post-apocalyptic survival horror film that tells a thoroughly entertaining tale in a wholly convincing setting. It contains a plethora of interesting elements that detail this world such as shanty towns with makeshift laws, regulations and economies. It also contains dangerous crazy fundamental Christians that seek to redeem non-believers, factions with their own agendas and of course vampires.
Martin narrates "let's begin at the beginning"and it is this immediacy of pacing that drives Stake Land as it wastes no time with the set-up or progression of the road trip that Mister and Martin embark upon. After a little back story we are already thrown into their world. Mister is tougher than nails, he does not mess around and bluntly and efficiently gets to the point, especially with Martin, whom he trains with to kill vampires. The vampires themselves are monsters in every sense of the word; hideous and animalistic and not the type we are accustomed to in pop culture; they are not refined and cannot even speak. This is perfect however as they fit this broken, ravaged world. Based on the nature of the mentor and trainee travelling through a desolated United States, it is easy to label Stake Land as 'The Road with fangs'. This is however not entirely the case, as its scenes of isolation and danger on the horizon can be linked to The Road but the rest of the film is its own unique vision of an apocalyptic world.
Each town and settlement seems to have different and accepted set of norms that are adhered to, such as when a bartender quips to Mister that 'we don't tolerate religion or politics here'. It is in these hubs that Mister and Martin trade, eat, sleep and relax in the form of booze or prostitution; it is all bartering, business and consensual, which is probably how a town would operate in such a world. Either that or we would eat each other alive. In this society, vampire killers are revered and when Mister flashes his bag of fangs he has procured from the vamps he has dispatched, he is immediately respected.
As they travel between towns however it is a lawless no-man's land and not the bubble of relative safety felt in the small settlements. Mister and Martin cannot even travel with ease during the day, when the vampire threat is non-existent. The radio in their bad-ass car crackles with Christian propaganda and this is a sign of things to come, for a very dangerous and prevalent fanatical fundamental army roams the roads, destroying all who cross their paths. Their leader is the insane Jebediah Loven (Michael Cerveris) and it is obvious Mister and Martin will face this oncoming threat.
Like the video game Fallout there are many factions each having oppositions and Mister and Martin come across a few of them on their quest to reach New Eden, but this is not a fully realised world, and there are no doubt many more factions and groups that exist. Stake Land focuses on Mister and Martin's road trip, and rightly so as Martin provides the narrative for the entire trip, speaking in past tense which is ominous and works extremely well; particularly when referring to the people they meet on the journey that travels with them.
There is always a feeling of unrest and paranoia but regardless of the verbal hints Stake Land still contains some very shocking and unexpected moments, which definitely makes it stand out over most post apocalypse themed movies which normally seem to have a play book on what to include. Stake Land even contains a mystery element in the second half of the film when people start disappearing from the group.
In Stake Land, the battles with the vampires are exciting and fast paced and stake-fu is definitely the best description for them witheach vampire being quickly destroyed using the trusty pointed weapon. Each battle is also an excellent gauge of how Martin progresses with his training. The vampires they do battle with look quite cheesy at times, the CGI effects and monster design is definitely not the best, but all the other elements, such as the obsessively detailed elements of this fragmented America more than makes up for it, although the final battle Martin and Mister become embroiled in is a major let down for Stake Land and unnecessary to the story and overall purpose.
Another issue in Stake Land is the portrayal of the emotions and thoughts of the protagonists. Martin seems to overcome tragedy a little too easily, and Mister's internal struggles with whatever past life he had is only hinted at near films end. Referring to the aforementioned end; it is very unsatisfying albeit understandable ending, considering how we are introduced to the film initially. It would be welcome news to hear of a sequel or series because that is where the end leaves us.
Regardless of these niggling issues, Stake Land is an absolutely recommended watch because it is a unique vision on a plague torn America and the journey Mister and Martin go on is filled to the brim with excitement, action, horror and completely unexpected jaw dropping scenes.