Monday, March 19, 2012

REVIEW: Stake Land

Stake Land
Director: Jim Mickle
Year 2010

Stake Land is a brutal film that shows what would happen if life in America took a drastic turn for the worst with vampires ruling the night and religious zealots plaguing the daylight. Never shying away from the gory realization that this world is a dangerous one, the filmmakers present a no holds barred smorgasbord of apocalyptical elements that never soften the fact that this world is truly lost to savagery. Even with all of this death and destruction around, the film allows its characters to open up and dish out a great deal of emotion, proving that even the most vicious of movies can show a great deal of heart.
This cruel and unusual film follows a young man named Martin and a vampire hunter named simply Mister, as they traverse the vampire infested countryside of the now defunct United States of America. Determined to reach a safe zone called The New Eden, the pair set off North towards Canada, picking up random survivors along the way while dealing with some rather nasty customers in the form of ravenous fanged creatures and a gang of violence loving religious fanatics. As their rag tag group begins to dwindle, will hope be over the next horizon, or will they in the end just turn out to be vampire food? Welcome to Stake Land.

With a great group of unknown actors, Stake Land utilizes the unfamiliarity of the cast to make a wholly believable group of scavengers and vampire hunters. Nick Damici plays the role of Mister, the hardened bad ass who collects vampire teeth like it’s going out of style. Damici nails the character, bringing with him a hard nosed approach to the weathered hunter who has seen his fair share of death. His presence is palpable in this film, mirroring the very frightening and harsh environment that the audience is introduced to in Stake Land. Being a world that is overrun and dowsed in fear, Mister plays the role of the savior by helping us ease into the flick, introducing us in the way of the land and mentoring us on how to survive. Damici does a damn fine job in sucking us into this world and he really does own the role of Mister.
Stepping up as a sort of vampire hunter in training is the character of Martin, played by Connor Paolo. His role is a rather challenging one, for it’s one of the only ones that have a defined character arch to it. Martin is rescued early on in the film by Mister and when they first meet, Martin is for the most part, passive and timid. With the help of Mister, he begins to come into his own and find a place for himself within this savage new world. In summary, the character of Martin depicts a coming of age kind of story, where we get to see the confidence grow inside this individual character until he is comfortable in his own skin. Paolo does a commendable job in bringing it all together, playing the innocent and naive parts to perfection, while tackling some of the more mature elements of the character with great skill. It’s wonderful to see Martin grow as the film moves along and Paolo should get a great deal of credit for pulling this tricky role off.

There are so many amazing aspects of this production that I find myself having trouble figuring out what to tackle next, but first I have to mention that the movie world of Stake Land looks absolutely breathtaking in that distraught and dysfunctional kind of way. Everything just looks like all hell has broken loose and there really isn’t a single moment in this film that you don’t understand with stark realization that this is society at its most dire and low form. What’s also notable about the visual breadth of this film is that the destruction of the landscapes are filmed in a surprisingly beautiful way, twisting the conceptual notion of what beauty truly is, and in the process making for some very poetic moments. By contrasting vistas littered with decaying bodies against the harmonious look of the expansive wooded landscapes that surround this picture, the film comes off as an obscure mixture of both life and death.
Added on top of this visual approach, is a striking soundtrack that both pulls at the heart strings, but also rips them out, all in one bombastic motion. There’s even a heavy dose of religious overtones, featuring both its positive and negatives effects on this disheveled society. These hard hitting moments are powerful in their execution and weigh heavy on the surviving crews shoulders, making their struggle as equally challenging on the mental front as well as the physical. It’s a duel functionality that works quite well in the movie. The combination of all of these elements makes for a complete aesthetic package that is just wonderful to behold. Bets are that you won’t likely see a horror film with this much class and substance in quite a long time.
With the more poetic portions of this film set aside, Stake Land has a great array of practical effects and sparsely used computer generated touches, allowing for the movie to feel more genuine in presentation rather then disruptive and evasive. The subtlety of the effects does wonders for bringing this outlandish nightmare to life. You feel the lived in nature of the world and you’re taken a back at the powerful stature of some of these practical effects laden creatures as they stalk their prey with their hulking mass of muscles, claws and fangs. The blood flows with great urgency when one of these beasts begins to feed and the manner in which they move places them on the top of the food chain in their savagery. The decision to change vampires into a more beastlike form, almost blending the concept of the vampire with that of a werewolf, was pure brilliance and it is a great contrast to the modern depiction of teen angst vamps that has recently swept the country as fervently as the vampire plague that took over Stake Land’s United States. They are a force to be reckoned with and the make-up effects are top notch across the board. You really can’t go wrong with this movie. It just seems to hit all the right notes.

Stake Land is a tremendously enjoyable film that holds no punches in delivering a story that is both terrifying and engaging. The world that the filmmakers have created within this cinematic treasure is so detailed and thought out that you mistakenly accept it as fact. The vivid nature of the production and the detailed work that went into making this surreal nightmare is unparalleled, combining both a visual depiction of a world gone mad with all the moral implications that go along with it.
The characters are also well thought out and believable, giving us something to hold on to and root for. Their journey becomes our journey, and in that mind set we become more invested in this frightening world where life can be extinguished in an instant. Both Nick Damici and Connor Paolo do an amazing job as the front runners of this picture, and each actor brings a special quality to their individual character’s personality. The combination of morality, religious duality, and human spirituality is replicated in great visual form between the breathtaking vistas, claustrophobic settings, and warring factions of the film. These collections of elements allows for a more sophisticated genre effort to come into the light, one that is a hell of a lot of fun to experience yet full of pulse pounding moments that spring up at you at every turn. I can’t recommend this little indie effort enough and hope that this write up will force you to take notice on a horror film that really has its shit together when it comes to quality and quantity. Check it out. Stake Land is simply……

Dude! I think there's something sticking out of your neck!

Alright son. Are you ready for some StakeBall!

No shit Sherlock!

When road rage goes too far.

Where the shit are we?

Santa? You're not looking so hot.

We're the Monster Squad.

Martin you cheeky little pervert.

Yep... it's broken.

This world is so brutal, even the leaves bleed.

One of the few peaceful moments in this shitstorm of a film.

Mister, come over here and give us a big wet lickery kiss.

Look out for the roadkill. It's EVERYWHERE!

Peek a boo... I see you.

Roasted... Toasted... and burnt to a crisp!

What?!?! No one said this was a nun rape crossing?

Gnarly dude!

Welcome to the end of the movie.


  1. I blind bought this and I'm glad I did. If I'd of known it was from the same director of MULBERRY STREET, I wouldn't have bothered, lol. To me, STAKE LAND is to vampires what DAWN OF THE DEAD was to zombie movies.

  2. I have yet to check out Mulberry Street and from what I can gather, you didn't think much of it. I've heard varying opinions on the film, so I'll eventually check it out if it comes across my cinema viewing path but I don't think I'll go out of my way to track down a copy.

    I agree that Stake Land did a great deal for vampires, and like Dawn of the Dead, it can handle repeated viewings without losing the magic that the first time bestowed upon the viewer. Both classically executed and damn fine movies.