Thank Vlad the Impaler there are still some filmmakers who believe vampires should be scary rather than sparkly. Replace the zombies in AMC’s The Walking Dead with demonic bloodsuckers, play up the Wild West angle of surviving in a post-apocalyptic society, and you start to get an idea of the mood writer/director Jim Mickle manages to strike in Stake Land -- an involving vampire romp, and an inspiring example of creative vision overcoming budgetary limitations.
His entire family slaughtered by vampires right before his eyes, terrified teen Martin (Connor Paolo) falls in with a mysterious vampire hunter named Mister (Nick Damici), who trains him how to wield a wooden stake as they wander the wastelands in search of survivors. Before long, the duo is joined by conflicted nun Sister (Kelly McGillis), resourceful youngster Willie (Sean Nelson), and a pregnant teenager (Danielle Harris) looking for a safe place to give birth. With supplies running low and safe houses hard to come by, the group sets their sights on a place known as "New Eden," the last stronghold of humanity. But getting there won't be easy because the crazed fundamentalists who travel the roads by day are even more dangerous than the evil bloodsuckers who stalk the darkness.
It’s rare for a director to establish such a singular vision on such a miniscule budget, but with Stake Land, Mickle creates a universe that feels fully realized from the opening shot of a beat-up car racing down a sun-drenched country road. As strong as Mickle’s grasp of vampire and Western iconography is, however, Stake Land can’t help but be slightly hindered by its episodic structure and constant narration -- two factors that give it the feel of a confidently executed TV pilot rather than a solid-concept feature. Regardless, Mickle has without question created a universe capable of enduring; by constructing a convincing mythology complete with its own vernacular and filling it with characters that are worth rooting for, he proves that great things can indeed be accomplished with limited resources. The creature effects are impressive (Mickle’s snarling, beastly vampires almost give the impression of a bloodsucker cross-bred with a werewolf), action set pieces are executed with style and confidence, and the cast members are all up to the task -- with Damici and McGillis coming off particularly well as the grizzled vampire slayer and haunted nun, respectively.
Taking a cue from George A. Romero, Mickle quickly establishes that monsters may be the least of our protagonist’s concerns as a group of religious zealots make a gruesome grab for power, and then he smartly uses that angle to bring his story full circle. Although that is the one element of Stake Land that some viewers may see as the film’s most predictable, screenwriters Mickle and Nick Damici still throw in enough unique ideas and involving action sequences to distract us along the way, while cinematographer Ryan Samul keeps our eyes constantly occupied with atmospheric widescreen photography that occasionally recalls Dean Cundey’s work with John Carpenter in the 1980s. Meanwhile, composer Jeff Grace (I Sell the Dead, The House of the Devil) gives the whole endeavor a pensive tone that picks up nicely whenever the action does -- ensuring that the vast majority of Stake Land’s biggest flaws are fleeting, rather than defining.
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- Released: 2010
- Rating: NR
- Review: Thank Vlad the Impaler there are still some filmmakers who believe vampires should be scary rather than sparkly. Replace the zombies in AMC’s The Walking Dead with demonic bloodsuckers, play up the Wild West angle of surviving in a post-apocalyptic society… (more)