Stake Land is a movie that got a pretty good reputation in the horror community after it played to positive reviews in a variety of genre film festivals and it had a marketable premise about vampires (the “in” monster at the moment). In spite of all that, the film was only ever allowed to play on five screens across the country for two weeks before being dumped and essentially sent straight to DVD. So how can this be when stuff like Shark Night 3D is given a wide release and a full marketing campaign? Well, given that I want to see at least one good horror movie this year, I was intrigued enough to check on this even though I’d normally skip this kind of cast off film.
As the film begins, the United States (and probably much of the world) has collapsed in the midst of a takeover by feral vampires. The film follows two survivors, a young man named Martin (Connor Paolo) and an experienced vampire hunter named Mister (Nick Damici) who has taken him in as a surrogate son. The two are trying to travel to a sanctuary called new Eden (Canada) where they hope to escape the vampires. In order to do this they’ll need to travel over many miles of territory that is littered with vampires and other survivors who can be every bit as dangerous as the blood-sucking monsters who come out at night.
The film in many ways seems to follow the formula of a zombie movie rather than a vampire film given its apocalyptic setting, but it’s real inspiration seems to be Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road.” Like that novel and film, this is about a close relationship between a father and (in this case surrogate) son as they travel through a hostile wasteland trying to survive and both end on similarly bittersweet notes. The difference is that Stake Land lacks the elegant prose of McCarthy’s novel and the mastery of atmosphere featured in John Hillcoat’s 2009 adaptation of that novel. What it does have are vampires, mean and seemingly wild vampires that have been brought to life through fairly competent makeup.
There is a relative realism to this zombie apocalypse that I appreciated to some extent. Take the Nick Damici vampire hunter character for example; most vampire hunters in movies of this caliber are decked out in high tech gadgets and the like, but this guy’s survival techniques are a lot more lo-fi and believable. The societal collapse material is mostly at least equal to par with these kind of movies as well, with the creation with a KKK meets Jonestown cult called The Brotherhood, which make for an appropriately creepy presence through the film. The film also seems to have made a pretty small budget do more than it could have. The film is made up to professional standards and doesn’t seem like the kind of hack work that often goes direct to video.
All that said, I can see why this film did not inspire a ton of confidence from its distributors. For one, the screenplay incorporates one of the worst voice over narrations that I’ve seen since… well, since Limitless. The narration by Connor Paolo provides almost nothing that we couldn’t get from watching the film and it’s also delivered rather poorly in a “world weary” monotone. Combine that with the film’s derivative nature and the fact that it’s production (while good) isn’t really anything we haven’t seen before, and the movie we’re left with maybe wasn’t exactly “ready for prime time.” Still Stake Land is a mostly passable movie that is worth watching on cable or as a cheap rental, you can do a lot worse in the realm of low budget horror titles anyway.
**1/2 out of Four