Monday, November 07, 2011

Stake Land – review

Director: Jim Mickle

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

I looked at Stake Land here after watching it on the big screen. Now, when I offer a first impression I have often found myself torn about composing a full review, often I re-read the first impression and decide I have said all I want to about the film, tag a score on the end and list the film in the review menus.

In the case of Stake Land I felt it would be doing this marvellous film a disservice. It is a movie I particularly enjoyed, have watched a few times since getting the DVD, and wished to run over it once more. I doubt everyone will feel the same way about the film – the joy, of course, of movies generally.

Mister and Martin
The film begins with Martin (Connor Paolo) and Mister (Nick Damici) in a car. Martin’s voiceovers lead us through the film. There is something in the boot of the car. Cutting to the time when they met, Martin is in the family garage as his dad (Gregory Jones) works on the car and his mother (Traci Hovel) holds his baby brother. Public service announcements sound through the radio. The dog runs into the night and Martin chases after it. He is out of the garage when the vampire attacks.

uncompromising opening
He runs back but is intercepted by Mister. Mister hands him a gun and they go into the barn together. By flashlight they see that his father is wounded and dying and his mother is dead. The vampire is up the barn wall feeding on the baby, which it drops. The film is uncompromising here, the scene with the baby showing us the aggressive, feral hunger of the vampires. The vampire attacks and Mister manages, eventually, to pin him but Martin has to swing the hammer to bury the stake in it's chest – it is the start of an apprenticeship in vampire hunting.

Michael Cerveris as Jebediah
Where did the vampires come from? The film doesn’t say, we are simply in the midst of a vampire apocalypse. However some short prequels, which were made available, indicate that contaminated meat may have been the source of the virus. Martin tells us that many survivors turned to God, waiting for a Messiah who never came. However crackpot religions did develop and rather than the vampires, the main enemy in the film is the Christian Army of Aryans, known as the Brotherhood and personified in the form of Jebediah Loven (Michael Cerveris, Cirque du Freak: the Vampire’s Assistant). The first time we meet the brotherhood is when two of them are trying to rape a nun, credited as Sister (Kelly McGillis), and Mister kills them – finding rapists morally reprehensible.

dumped with vampires
The Brotherhood see the vampires as instruments of God and use them to attack Lockdowns – small towns surviving through their own militia. We hear of them crashing through roadblocks, we see them dropping vampires from helicopters into a town and hear tales of them crashing planes with vampires on board into cities – that is how Washington DC is alleged to have fallen. The hypocrisy of the group and their twisted biblical message is a central theme of the film.

Kelly McGillis as the Sister
The actual core of the film is a buddy, road movie focusing on Martin’s coming of age. The film can be purposefully languid at times, with soundtrack to match, exploding into violence and, more importantly, forcing the characters, and thus us, to deal with the aftermath of the violence. Along the way they meet other survivors in the form of Belle (Danielle Harris) and Willie (Sean Nelson). The goal of the group is to head North, vampires are inactive/less active in cold climates and New Eden (Canada) is alleged to be safe.

Eilis Cahill as the scamp
We meet various vampire mutations. Berserkers have developed a bony breastplate protecting the heart and so they have to be killed by severing the spinal cord – vampires utilise the reptile brain – and we also meet a scamp (Eilis Cahill, Thicker than Water: the Vampire Diaries Part 1), a child turned into a vampire. Mister mentions that he has seen other mutations. Sunlight will kill them, causing them to burn and Mister coats his stakes with garlic essence – saying it can’t hurt. The virus manifests as black markings radiating from a bite.

vampire Santa
I really enjoy Stake Land, it was a fantastic vampiric take on the apocalyptic movie – taking back from zombies what they originally borrowed from the genre. It works as a buddy movie, as a coming of age movie and as a horror. There are moments that seem derivative – the vampire Santa reminded me of the zombie clown in Zombieland for some reason, though this film is played completely seriously as opposed to the comedic zombie movie – but this was not necessarily a bad thing. The film eschews sentimentality, the brotherhood attacks destroy hope in the form of community and Martin’s companions can be taken from him without any character sympathy and yet, in the end, an open finale offers a glimmer of hope for the character.

Definitely a film I will return to again and again. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

4 comments:

Margaret said...

I've been waiting to see your extended thoughts on this one. Couldn't agree more. Certainly one that I also will be happy to view again. It's interesting how the very independent and gritty way this was filmed just envelops you more fully in the story and really works on a primal level. Also, living in the midwest of the US, I was pretty impressed at how real everything felt, particularly the locations. I was really impressed by this one. For vampire apocalypse films. This one is definitely near the top of the list.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Margaret

Everlost said...

just watched it, i matched your 8, guessing your score. teresa said 7. Really dont like my vamps to be like ambling zombies, but a good film nontheless.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Now Mister, you really are getting too good at guessing my scores :)

(for those reading the comments all befuddled, Everlost, Teresa and I all attend the Bram Stoker Film Festival - along with Leila, anopther friend - and he has got guessing what I suggest I would score the vamp films down to a fine art)