Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stake Land (2010)

     Sure, the impetus behind calling the film Stake Land (2010) seems to be to cash in on the success Zombieland (2009); the awkward announcement of a vampire-ridden America as "Stake Land" feels not so much self-aware as aware of the zombie-themed flick.  Stake Land also fails to explain how Mister (Nick Damici, who also co-wrote the script) knows so much about the various types of vamps while the general population breaks down rather easily into victims, huddled masses, and cultists.  But even with its flawed storytelling – and seeming to borrow from Kevin Costner's The Postman (1997) – the movie is rather enjoyable.
     The story is straight forward, with a few complications along the way to draw it out.  There are the vampires – and everybody should be afraid of them.  There are people trying to survive – they are very afraid of the vampires, and often their victims.  There are a few hunters – Mister being the one featured in the movie – who are unwilling to wait out the end of the world in quite desperation.  Then there are the religious crazies – claiming a brand of Christianity that has the vampire plague as God's means of cleansing the Earth for the True Believers and what I presumed to be their New Jerusalem – and they are the real bad guys.  They are the ones who take the situation from 'oh, this is bad' to 'well, the President's dead and all of the cities have been infected'. 
     It may help to think of Stake Land as a road movie with lots of dangerous, bloodthirsty obstacles.  The buddy-buddy element may play a little false (Connor Paolo's Martin is too slight a character to be any kind of equal to Mister), but there is a believable dynamic between the two main characters.  As one might expect in a horror film, not everyone is in it for the long haul.  But most of the deaths and slayings have a purpose beyond mere horror convention.  The action is a little more comedic than I would have preferred, especially given the more mature themes director and co-writer Jim Mickle is striving to explore, but it is effective.
     Damici plays Mister in a way that makes one think he could be Harvey Keitel's younger brother.  There is menace and sensitivity at the same time, almost all the time.  Paolo keeps Martin emotionally restrained through most the movie – which makes sense given his traumas.  The rest of the cast is serviceable, never overshadowing the leads or drawing away from the immersion in the setting.
     I say give Stake Land a chance if you haven't seen it.  This is the kind of independent horror that comes around too infrequently; we certainly don't see it from the studio films.  It may not be a cinematic classic, but it certainly isn't the dreck that constitutes the majority of horror offerings.

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