Saturday, February 25, 2017

Stake Land II – review

Director: Dan Berk & Robert Olsen

Release date: 2016

Contains spoilers

Though I know many who dislike the film, I really do rate the original Stake land, indeed I predicted in its review that it was “Definitely a film I will return to again and again.” That prediction has proven true and I am never disappointed by the film.

The fact that it has spawned a sequel actually came as a bit of a shock, I missed it until it was already out and available in various markets. Written by star Nick Damici, I suppose this was always going to struggle against its predecessor… and it does. However there is a worthwhile film here. Like the first film it features a special vampire – one that shows cognitive functioning – but the majority of the vampires in the film are feeding machines and could, properly, gain the name zompire.

Connor Paolo as Martin
The last film saw older vampire hunter Mister (Nick Damici) slip away into the night, leaving young prodigy Martin (Connor Paolo) with Peggy (Bonnie Dennison). They headed North, over the Canadian border to New Eden – a human outpost far enough North that the vampires wouldn’t bother them – due to the cold presumably. This film starts with martin telling the story to his and Peggy’s daughter (Taylor Zelionka). There is an alarm and New Eden is under attack by the religious fanatics the Brotherhood, fighting alongside berserker vampires led by a female vampire, the Mother (Kristina Hughes).

Kristina Hughes as Mother
Peggy and the daughter are captured, New Eden falls and Martin watches the Mother stab his wife and child – before the attacking forces retreat South again. Later we see that Martin fired an arrow at the Mother, who plucked it out of the air, in flight, and it was his arrow that was used to stab his wife and child. Martin is also astounded that the brotherhood and feral vampires were able to fight as a cohesive unit and rightly surmises that the Mother has some method of control of the vampires. He heads South to find Mister and to kill the creature that killed his family.

desperate for blood
As he travels South we see him attacked by a couple of slow vampires, so desperate for blood that they attack in daylight; burning slowly as they attack, their physical condition poor. With the second one he comes into contact with a ma (Kathryn Bracht) and pa (Blaine Hart) and just survives being drugged so that they can use him for meat. In this new post-apocalyptic world the humans are just as dangerous as the vampires and perhaps it was due to his brief peaceful sojourn in New Eden, but this older Martin seems more naïve than his younger self.

Mother's palanquin
Eventually he finds Mister (being held as a gladiator in a sub-Mad Max set up), who subsequently gets captured by the Brotherhood and has to be rescued again before Martin and he make a last stand with some friendly survivors in (apparently) the last lockdown, against the Mother and her worshippers. For the Brotherhood (who were an apocalyptic Christian-derived group, or so it appeared in the first film) now worship her as their dark messiah – carrying her in a heavily draped palanquin adorned with a bovine head.

left for the vampires
The religious symbolism is, of course, rife – Mister, for instance, is crucified and left for the vampires. The Brotherhood are far from pious. Not only do they murder in the name of the Mother but they aren’t above a spot of rape and are willing to become suicide bombers. Perhaps the religious commentary is delivered with a lack of subtlety but then the first film wasn’t particularly subtle either.

Mister's compadres
Acting and character wise, Damici is as good as expected as the taciturn Mister and we get some more background to him. As a character his background is expanded on when we meet two of his old compadres, who are more forthcoming about the past than he is. There is a feel that he is getting too old and long in the tooth for his private crusade against the vampires and wants to prevent Martin from losing himself to revenge like he did. Martin is perhaps less rounded as a character, despite us knowing more about him, he is portrayed less taciturn and more shell-shocked.

desperate for blood 2
As for the Mother – beyond controlling vampires we discover that she has a trait not before seen in the films (though I won’t spoil it) but as an antagonist is less visible in the film than Jebediah was in the previous film and thus rather shallow as an enemy. Larry Fessenden cameos in a short speaking role – though whether he is the same character that he played in the first film is unclear. So, compared to the first film this felt lacking and perhaps a tad restricted on a budgetary level – however it was nice to see the characters return. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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