Notable Cast: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis, Michael Cerveris
Review: For all intents and purposes, Stake Land is a much darker and grittier Zombieland, but with blood suckers instead of brain munchers. Look to the introduction; same “Welcome to Stake Land” by a child prodigy character being taught by a elder presence hell bet on eradicating the evil that has overcome the earth. Yeah, I’m not afraid to admit ideals were stolen, but Stake Land separates itself by choosing a much different path than its comical brother. Stake Land takes a much more serious tone on the horror genre, trading laughs for the desperation of humanity. It’s a much bleaker view on the end of the world, but was equally as effective. These vamps won’t sparkle at you or will you to death with their good looks. Nope, Stake Land is a horrific place where the weak falter, and only the most badass survive.
Stake Land follows a boy named Martin (Paolo) and his mentor named only Mister (Damici). A vampire plague has been sweeping across the nation, hitting the lower half of the country hardest. Mister found Martin during an attack on Martin’s family, leaving him as the only survivor. Mister decides to take Martin under his wing, teaching him all the survival tactics necessary to survive in a vampire apocalypse. Martin and Mister have their sights set on New Eden, a supposed salvation near Canada due to its secluded nature and minimal population. The safest places are the emptiest, turning the cities into slaughterhouses when the vampires first attacked. But other perils lay ahead of the unlikely friends, including religious fanatics believing the vampires were sent from god to clean the earth of all impurities. Mister gains a bad reputation amongst them and becomes a target because of his hunter lifestyle, and becomes a target for the so-called Brotherhood. Meeting new friends along the way, Mister keeps his focus on survival and presses onward to New Eden, despite mounting odds.
The dark and gritty atmosphere really played in the favor of Stake Land….
Getting past the whole Zombieland formula, Stake Land asserts itself by really digging into the dark world of vampires. For so long vampires have been cast as these gothic albinos with slicked back hair and a flamboyant cape, and recently have been turned into certifiable pussies. We should be terrified of things that want to suck our blood; not have our teenage girls plastering posters of them on their walls. Stake Land puts these hokey monsters to shame, giving us a breed of vampire that act like feral beasts. Looking like a cross between zombie and wild creature, these vampires will rip you to shreds, leaving more behind than two little teensy holes on your neck to worry about. The fear and tension were most definitely prevalent because of the night stalkers, leaving the sense of danger always looming. Stake Land isn’t the usual splatter-fest found in most recent horror films though. Don’t get me wrong, the gore is there, but Stake Land has the independent feel in the way that attention to character development is extremely important. Nick Damici, who plays Mister, helped pen the script with director Jim Mickle, and both writers put plenty of attention in the story to show the evolving relationship between Martin and Mister, along with the rest of the group to a lesser degree. So many horror films fall into the trap of thinking the audience is only in it for the kills, and never even bother putting effort into the story. Now, I love a great over the top film as much as the next guy, but you can only watch the same recycled script over and over again before the movies start melting together in a bloody blur. So when a horror film comes along that actually pays attention to story and detail, you can’t help but appreciate what the writers are trying to accomplish. Not all horror fans are brain-dead gore hounds. Stake Land proves sacrificing gore for story pays off if done properly, keeping us hooked with talent instead of shock value attempts.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by scream queen Danielle Harris, veteran Kelly McGillis, the seedy Michael Cerveris, and the largely unknown Sean Nelson. There’s nothing to gush about based on just names, but everyone delivered what they needed to. It’s no surprise that Harris is a sure fit in Stake Land, playing a pregnant damsel who joins the group on their way to New Eden. Cerveris was the best fit in the cast though, playing religious wing-nut and Brotherhood leader Jebedia Loven. He owned the blindly faithful and ideally filled villain character to combat the silently tough and gritty hunter Mister. Damici wrote the film, so he knew exactly how to act out Mister, which was a huge advantage in being the teacher character. The strong story arc of the film was Mister’s relationship with Martin, with Damici and Paolo having a good enough chemistry to enjoy watching them grow. Strong performances and a good script? Can this really be a horror film?
Stake Land mixed beautifully a well written story with developed characters and enough vampire gore to keep us all excited. It attacks the horror genre with all fans in mind, not just those looking for a brainless experience. The whole post apocalyptic world devastated by a monster race has been done over and over again, mostly with zombies though. Using vampires was a fresh take, especially the more ferocious monster version that Stake Land decided to use. They were to be feared, as in 30 Days of Night of recent memory. I applaud Stake Land for being able to work an engaging story in and pay so much attention to the script, which is a breath of fresh air especially in the American horror genre. Stake Land isn’t perfect, but proves to upcoming directors that horror doesn’t have to be just blood and guts. It helps, but can only get you so far.
Final Rating: 7.5 blood sucking baddies out of 10
Next stop…Canada? I don’t think Universal Healthcare has vampire coverage…