Sunday, 25 January 2015

Stake Land (2010) - Horror Film Review

Now normally I'm not too keen on vampire films, but the trailer for Stake Land piqued my interest. This film shares far more in common with zombie films then a film about blood suckers normally would.

Stake Land starts with a mysterious man (Nick Damici) saving Martin; a teenage boy from a vampire attack which leaves the rest of his family dead. The man named as 'Mister' takes the boy under his wing and teaches him the skills needed to fight the undead. What started off as sporadic attacks out in the American countryside soon heads to populated areas and an unknown amount of time later vampire apocalypse (for a change) has swept the globe. Humans survived by banding together in barricaded townships, while the cold blooded feral like vampires roam the rest of the world. Mister is unsurprisingly a vampire hunter which earns lots of respect in this terrible new world. With rumours of an undead-less land up north (named New Eden) Mister and Martin head on the road trip to end all road trips. Along the way they collect new allies and make enemies with a powerful and dangerous cult known as 'The Brotherhood'.

A post apocalyptic vampire road movie then? It sure sets the scene well with no end of devastation and lots of bleak, sombre music that brought to mind elements of The Last of Us. The main characters are all a quiet bunch, Mister himself in particular being the understated figure head of silent suffering, while Martin's transition from scared kid to hunter is well handled. For a lot of the film there is little dialogue, the people who find themselves united together don't need deep conversations. The supporting cast also do a good job; pregnant Belle, the middle aged Nun; Sister, and the ex soldier Willie all bring something to the film. When good people die as is often the case their loss here is profoundly felt.

The vampires of Stake Land are different to the normal type. There are different types of vampire but for the most part they look very zombie like and are almost animal like in their behaviour; unable to speak and with limited intelligence they exist only to drink the blood of their victims. These creatures face all the usual weakness of their kind; sunlight burns them up, a stake through the heart stops them for good, while even garlic burns them. The special effects for the ghouls are pretty great, though that may also explain why there seems so few of them.

For a post apocalyptic world I sure did expect to see more vampires but I think the most you ever see on screen at once is around six of the things. That isn't to say there is not a lot of violence as there is a tonne of it and it doesn't shy away from having children and even babies becoming victims. As usual the real menace of this new world are the humans themselves, more specifically the Brotherhood led by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) who is unwisely made into the films main antagonist. Loven is an over the top, unbelievable character whose screen time sucks out the quality and atmosphere built up elsewhere. It doesn't help his dialogue is all hammy and terrible.

It is all very well directed with some scenes in particular really standing out from other films as a whole. There is a very well shot scene involving a female vampire and a car for instance, while the appearance of a Santa Claus vampire later on was both messed up and darkly humorous in its framing and pay off. The human settlements offer hope into the bleak world of Stake Land with humanity banding together and singing and dancing in a way that you don't often see in the suspicious worlds of Armageddon aftermath. It made for a nice change even if these short brief interludes are all over too quickly and are a little too bit sweet and sugary to be taken seriously.

There is a lot to like with Stake Land, it shows vampires in an awesome new way and it knows how to pull (ever so gently) at your heart strings. Meanwhile the relationship between Mister and his young ward Martin is expertly handled, much better displayed by looks and actions than any amount of talking could ever do. Sad, poignant but also betrayed at times by what appears to be a low budget and an over the top antagonist, this is nonetheless well worth a watch.


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