Stake Land

Stake Land

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Metrodome Distribution 

Release date: June 17th 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 98 minutes

Director: Jim Mickle

Cast: Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis, Connor Paolo, Bonnie Dennison, Michael Cerveris, Sean Nelson, Chance Kelly, Adam Scarimbolo, Marianne Hagan, Nick Damici, Stuart Rudin, Lou Sumrall

Ah, Canada. Anyone who has ever met me for more than a minute will know how I feel about my adoptive homeland. Gloriously, that is. And it’s to my home and not-so-native land that a band of struggling humans are fleeing to after the US is overrun by “vamps”. Only, because they don’t know how good it already is, they have taken to calling it ‘New Eden’.

Whatever. Connor Paolo leads as Martin, both fresh-faced and glowering. He nails a certain experience in those puppy-dog eyes, having seen his parents attacked and killed by the vamps. And he’d have been next if it weren’t for the mysterious Mister (Nick Damici). Mister not only saves Martin, but trains him to be a hunter like him.

Stake Land

“Welcome to Stake Land,” Mister growls to Martin as he kills his first vamp, lunging out the trunk of their car. They drive north towards Canada, because it’s a frozen wasteland too cold for the undead, obviously. And food, apparently, so watch out for the roaming bands of cannibals in upstate New York.

Mister and Martin pick up passengers on the way, cobbling together a makeshift family, doing their best to get by. Danielle Harris is heavily pregnant, attractive in the awkward step-sister kind of way, Kelly McGillis fills in the role of mother, and Sean Nelson is the cool uncle or older brother. Mister is undoubtedly the father figure, but his character isn’t really developed past always being there and saving everyone.

Stake Land

He’s given no backstory at all, and fills a similar roll to Woody Harrelson in Zombieland (2009), except that without a reason for any of it, Mister seems like a bit of a foil to keep Martin alive, even though there’s no real reason for that either, other than he’s too cute to be killed.

There are sweet moments between Mister and Martin, the bottle of whisky in the bar, and getting him a haircut, but I’m so soft on the inside I can’t tell if anyone else would be touched by those scenes or not.

Vampires they can handle, even if they are kind of more like zombies, but more dangerous on their horizon is The Brotherhood, an extreme Christian cult who believe the vamps are an instrument of God to wipe out sinners. Using rape and vamps as weapons, they’ve got a stronghold over pockets of the country, and are much more of a villain than the vamps could ever be. Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris), head of The Brotherhood, is scarier than the vamps precisely because he is plausible. What fills the void in desperate times is a worthy subject of a film, and this is arguably the most interesting dimension of the movie, although it takes itself a little too seriously to really make the most of it. It doesn’t jump all the way in, perhaps through fears of offending people, but this means that the film can’t revel in the potential it sets up.

Stake Land

The atmosphere is dark and moody, and the shots in the Adirondacks are beautiful. The country really does look desolate and bleak and post-apocalyptic. Sunlight and the darkness are used deliberately and effectively, cinematographer Ryan Samul does a good job, but stunning scenery can’t make up for a thinning plot and two-dimensional characters.

One of my housemates expressed surprise at my seeing it and quite enjoying it, knowing how much of a massive wimp I am. It’s tense in parts, one or two jumps, but it isn’t a horror film by a long shot. It’s more of a survival road trip.

Stake Land

If I had seen The Road (2009), I think I’d want to draw some comparisons between the two. But I haven’t, so I’ll say that it is similar to I Am Legend (2007), and to some extent, Zombieland (2009). The genre is already saturated, so it was highly unlikely that Stake Land was going to have much more to say on the subject. What it does have to say, however, isn’t half bad. The religious zealotry is an interesting aspect, especially with Judgement Day rolling around again some time in October.

I found myself enjoying Stake Land despite myself, although if it had relaxed a bit and embraced how pulpy it was, it could have been a funnier, more rounded experience.

Its message is a bit muddled, but so is humanity, so maybe that’s point. What I personally take from Stake Land is ‘Canada is great and also paradise’. I’ll head back as soon as possible as a precautionary measure, I promise. It’s got to be better than living in Stake Land, eh.

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