Stake Land (2010)
There’s been a string of ‘post-apocalypse in America’ movies and TV shows of late. Zombieland, The Road and The Book of Eli as well as The Walking Dead, have all mined this scenario and given their own twist be it comedy, bleak drama or action. In comparison, Stake Land is something of a midpoint between Zombieland and The Road. It doesn’t have the laughs of the former and the unrelenting crushing despair of the latter but it has some neat set pieces and the director (Jim Mickle) really creates a believable world where danger and distrust are all too common.
The plot centers on the United States after an apparent plague of vampirism has swept across the nation. Young Martin (Connor Paolo) witness his own parents falling victim to a vampire attack and he himself is only saved thanks to the intervention by grizzled hunter known only as Mister (Nick Damici). Mister takes Martin under his wing and sets about teaching him the necessary tricks of the trade when it comes to slaying ‘vamps’. The two set out to reach ‘New Eden’, a place of safety that may or may not exist up north in Canada. The badlands of America prove a dangerous place however not only because once the sun sets the vicious and bloodthirsty vamps stalk the land looking for prey, but also because religious fundamentalists have seized on event as evidence of judgment day. These dangerous cults are every bit as dangerous as the vamps and crossing the United States means reaching various safety zones free from Fundamentalist control and protected from attack. The Mister and Martin pick up several cohorts along the way including a nun and a young pregnant girl. It’s a case of surviving as long as they can as they attempt to make it to ‘New Eden’.
Stake Land may be treading on old ground plot-wise but it nevertheless gives the post-apocalyptic movie a definite shot in the arm. Tonally it’s very similar to John Hillcoat’s The Road as the deserted streets and dilapidated truck stops of backwater America add an air of real despair to proceedings. As in The Road the cause of the world’s devastation is kept deliberately vague. We know there has been a spread of vampiristic zombie creatures across the United States and it appears the rest of the world too, we don’t know why and we don’t need to ask.
The reason we don’t need to know the back story behind the horrifying events is that the story is not about the terrible events as such, as it is about the small band of survivors we come across and how they manage to survive.
Wide eyed youngster Martin provides a narration as the film goes on and his character is the one we follow from start to finish and Stake Land is really his journey. He grows up over the course of the film and goes from naïve young orphan to world-weary warrior by the end. The real central focus of the film though is the enigmatic Mister. Mister is like the cowboy in a Western who rides out of the heat haze, protects the settler family, kills the bad guys and makes the streets safe for the townspeople before disappearing back from whence he came. He is a dogged and weather-beaten character who seems to know a considerable amount more about the vamps than anyone else. Actor Nick Damici also co-wrote the script and he has certainly made sure his character is the ass-kicking hero of the piece.
In general, the bleak vision of the future is one of desperate people clinging to hope and trying to instill glimpses of the old world back into what is left of society. One safety zone the group visit has an evening dance in which the various stragglers briefly forget their problems and are granted a brief respite from the nightly terror.
If these post-apocalyptic movies have taught us nothing else though, it’s that come the day when chaos rules the land and society has crumbled, religious fundamentalists will prove a deadly threat to any survivors. In Stake Land it’s the dangerous ‘Brotherhood’ led by head nutter Jebediah who prove the biggest danger as he sees the plague of vampirism as the Lord’s work and thus seems set on embracing and even aiding it.
It’s not perhaps as scary as some might like but Stake Land is a well made and adsorbing movie that creates a suitably bleak atmosphere but still injects moments of hope and human kindness along the way. Well worth a watch.
Stake Land is out on DVD & blu-ray 17th October 2011.
Director: Jim Mickle
Writers: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle
Stars: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis
Runtime: 98 min