Stake Land* Review

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Trailer
  • Stake Land film still

Score

A film that shrugs off its small budget to present a meditation on survival and suffering.

In Stake Land, a plague of vampires has turned America into a barbaric waste peopled by weird cultists and locked-down communities. When young Martin’s (Connor Paolo) parents are killed, he is taken under the wing of a grizzled campaigner known as ‘Mister’ (Nick Damici), who teaches him the art of removing the prefix from the word ‘undead’. Together they travel towards a possibly mythical safe haven somewhere far up north, and along the way pick up a nun, a pregnant girl and an ex-Marine.

Director Jim Mickle kicks things off rather hectically, and there’s a dubious early scene where Mister growls charismatically at Martin while rubbing garlic oil into his favourite stake. After that, though, the film relaxes into an elegiac story of life on the trail that puts you in mind of Walter Hill’s bucolic western The Long Riders, while the use of Paolo as narrator seems like a nod to the voiceovers in Terrence Malick’s classic movies.

The apocalypse has had mixed results. Although anarchy reigns in the wilderness – thanks to the Christian Brotherhood, a bunch of oversexed crazies who believe that vampires have been sent to punish the wicked – other communities show a touching adherence to the ways of a more civilised past, putting on street markets and dances, and stocking their shops with faded frocks. But the abiding impression is of humanity’s smallness and irrelevance as, trekking north, the protagonists dwindle into the vastness of the landscape.

Which isn’t to say that characterisation is overlooked. The script (written by Mickle and Damici) evokes in an unforced way the relationships that develop on the trail. At times their interaction achieves an almost Fordian simplicity. There’s a moment when the pregnant girl stumbles and Mister scoops her up and plods on with her through the snow. You know, and she knows, that he will carry her forever if he has to.

The third act dips briefly into Resident Evil mode, but after that the film finds its feet again and delivers a deeply felt conclusion, poised between hope and realism.

Anticipation

Hordes of the undead? Fangs very much!

3

Enjoyment

This beautiful vampire movie drives a stake right through your heart.

4

In Retrospect

A film that shrugs off its small budget to present a meditation on survival and suffering.

4
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