Tuesday 17 January 2012


Set in a near future that has seen humanity ravaged by a new breed of vampires, Stake Land is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

Mister (Nick Damici) roams what remains of the Earth killing vampires for survival, until he meets up with Martin (Connor Paulo), a young man who's lost his family and is need of help. Seeing a purpose in a world without order, Mister agrees to help Martin reach the border to Canada and with it, the promise of safety. Helping those in need along the way, Mister and Martin finds themselves hunted by members of the Brotherhood, a religious sect that might be more deadly than the vampires. Luckily, Mister's tooled up with his weapon of choice, plenty of stakes.

If the basic plot sounds familiar, it's because at a glance it's basically the same as 2009's Zombieland. However Woody Harrelson and friends can rest easy, because by drawing inspiration from Stephen King's The Stand and Cormac McCarthy's The Road in equal measure, Stake Land is more than just Zombieland with vampires. In fact it's a different beast entirely as these aren't exactly traditional vampires. They might suck blood, but they're the most zombie-like vamps I've ever seen.

In spite of the parallels with Zombieland, it would be unfair on both films to try and compare the experience and enjoyment gained from watching them. Whereas Zombieland is primarily a comedy that happens to take place in a zombie filled world, Stake Land is a violent struggle for survival that's about as funny as dysentery. As post apocalyptic zombie movies go, it's got a pretty cool set up. Lead by a trench-coated vampire hunter known only as Mister, the comparatively innocent Martin must learn how to defend himself against an onslaught of the undead. In this world there's danger at every turn, and not just from the vamps. Luckily, he's got a good teacher.

One aspect that Stake Land can't be faulted on is in creating a believably desolate and destroyed world. The whole landscape has been transformed into a pile of rubble and dark, unfamiliar and dangerous roads. It also has an interesting take on the religious implications of an apocalypse, with opinion swinging back and forth between those who seek to spiritually benefit from the destruction and those who just want to survive the aftermath. If you could sum the idea of the film up into one easy soundbite, it's the ongoing search for salvation, be it through religion, forgiveness or the birth of new life.

As is often the case in post apocalyptic scenarios, the ones who always seem to survive are the religious nutcases, represented here by a group known as the Brotherhood. They're quite a vicious bunch, and despite wanting to just look after him and his own, when Mister gets pulled into a war with the Brotherhood and its leader, Jebedia, you know things aren't going to end well. It's a land of filth and misery, not a million miles away from that of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead; at least in part like the TV series, but definitely like the comic books. Anyone who's come across The Governor in the books will have a good starting reference for Jebedia.

Perhaps its closest relative is Mad Max 2, the Brotherhood sharing similarities with the feral army of Max's world; but of course, this film features vampires too. The make up is highly impressive considering the budget, and although at times the story feels more like an episode of a cable TV show than a film, the acting's of a pretty high standard too.

The most recognisable name on the cast list is Kelly McGillis, and she's not really done anything of note since Top Gun. Appearing as a nun that's been raped by some of the savages that roam the Earth, she joins Mister and Martin as part of their surrogate family. Bona fide scream queen Danielle Harris also appears as a heavily pregnant drifter, probably the most vulnerable one in the group. As Mister, Nick Damici has carved himself a pretty iconic break out role, not surprising since he also contributed to the script along with director Jim Mickle.

Stake Land is an interesting watch, but it's definitely missing something. The film's lack of sense of humour does make it a heavy going and gruelling watch at times. Relentlessly bleak and willing to destroy the characters you've come to care about without warning, Stake Land is an unpredictable, stylish and violent film that perhaps needs rewarding for sticking to its guns. Or stakes, whatever.


Special Features: The Making of Stake Land, Director's Pre-Production Diary, VFX Breakdowns that explain how they altered their footage 'Monsters' style, Webisodes, Commentaries.

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