Monday 1 August 2011

Stake Land (2010)

STAKE LAND is a hybrid genre movie which combines elements of the post-apocalypse movie with elements of the horror, specifically vampire, movie.  It stars Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris, Sean Nelson and Bonnie Dennison.  It was directed by Jim Mickle and originally premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2010.

Vampires makes a change from zombies but even so this isn't an original idea.  Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend posited a virus-ravaged future in which a lone human fought hordes of vampires for the right to survive; it has since been adapted for the screen at least three times (see entry for THE LAST MAN ON EARTH).  STAKE LAND uses much the same background, except that there are loose groups of humans eking a meagre existence during daylight and trying not to get picked off at night.  The film follows two such characters: the monosyllabic but tough 'Mister' and Martin, the young boy whom he saves from a vampire that kills his parents.

A vampire chows down on Martin's baby sister
All that may make it sound hackneyed, and I suppose it is, but actually it's really effective.  There's just the right balance of survivalism, vampirism, road movie and humanity.  Plus there are some scenes where the visuals and voice-over combine to produce genuinely lyrical moments that recall Terrence Malick.

Director Jim Mickle may not be in that class but he along with script collaborator and leading man Nick Damici know their way around a genre picture; Mickle also has a very good eye for frame composition.  Their first effort, MULBERRY STREET [2006], was a micro-budget zombie virus flick; it had flaws but showed promise, particularly in its determination to draw credible characters around which to base the action.

Connor Paolo as Martin (L) and Nick Damici as 'Mister' (R)
STAKE LAND builds on that promise and retains the commitment to character-based action.  The central relationship, between surrogate father and son, is unsentimental but touching.  The various characters they encounter and in some cases befriend along the way are necessarily less well drawn but nevertheless make an impact, particularly an almost unrecognisable Kelly McGillis as Sister.

Kelly McGillis
As is the case in a lot of zombie / post-apocalypse films, it soon becomes apparent that other survivors pose an equal if not greater threat than the monsters.  Here that comes in the form of Christian fundamentalists (i.e. nutcases) who believe that the vampires have been sent by God to cleanse the Earth.  In a neat twist, they subdue the vamps and at night drop them from helicopters into human settlements in an effort to wipe out the last of the survivors.

There's plenty of gore and shock moments to keep genre fans happy but if you're not averse to the idea of films striving for something more then STAKE LAND delivers on that too.

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