Stake Land is a new film by director/writer Jim Mickle. It is the pissed off cousin to Zombieland. In fact I almost get the feeling that the two films could be companion pieces. While one is full of a steady stream of humor to alleviate the overwhelming feeling of isolated doom...the other paints that same doom as the backdrop to a deadly serious tale of mankind doing what he does best when confronted by the onset of dread...fuck everything up.
While the vampires in the film serve as the onset dread in the film, the true evil is man. Especially in the form of Jebedia Loven. A malevolent cult leader of the Brotherhood played with such venomous hatred and greed by Michael Cerveris. He does a great job of making you absolutely loathe his character.
All of the actors are great in the film. The always beautiful Danielle Harris plays Belle...and her performance almost made me tear up when we arrived at her arc. Connor Paolo was perfect in the role of Martin...a kid who loses his entire family during a night of vampire violence and finds an unlikely family on his way to New Eden, a place where there are supposedly no vamps. Kelly McGillis shows up as a tired and desperate nun also on the run (hah...nun on the run) from this vampire apocalypse. Nick Damici, who also does double duty as one of the writers of the film, plays Mister. Now...here is my sole critique of the film. While I love Damici's portrayal of the rogue vampire slayer...I think Mickey Rourke was born to play Mister. Rourke has those subtle gestures that convey stoic power and fragile emotion...all in one expression. Plus...I could see Rourke fucking up a crowd of vampires with ease. He is the embodiment of Mister. But, this is just me nitpicking at an otherwise flawless film. Again...there's nothing wrong with Nick Damici's performance...it's just unfortunate for him that Mickey Rourke exists.
I love Stake Land.
It is the kind of film that you sit back and know you're about to have a memorable cinematic experience. Everything hits with such force in the film...sometimes you kind of have to stand back and take a look at everything from a distance. So, for this review....I'm bringing in a guest reviewer. My mom. I brought her along with me to watch Stake Land because I knew she would enjoy it. After all...she's the one that raised me on this genre.
bryan: So...what did you think?
bryan's mom: What a great movie! A really great movie!
bryan: Wow...you really liked it, huh?
bryan's mom: Yes! Very good....and very sad. But, very good/sad. All the actors were great. There wasn't much talking in the movie...but, I think that's why the actors were so good.
bryan. You mean...the way they conveyed the emotions...simply by gestures and body language? Yeah...I thought that, too. Did you like the ending?
bryan's mom: Everything....the movie was great! When did this come out?
bryan: Umm....now, mom.
bryan's mom: Oh....
bryan: So...we drove out here to see Stake Land. Was it worth it?
bryan's mom: Yes! Great movie!
bryan: I'm so happy you loved it, mom!
Stake Land is a special horror film in a sea of mediocrity. I realize that I've been moping and bitching all year that there's a drought of horror...but, when a film likes this sneaks up and takes a bite out of you...you realize that there are good stories out there. While the apocalyptic premise has been done to death in zombie form and plague form and vampire form and various other takes....this is a story that is genuine. It works so well because you connect with the characters as well as the realistic atmosphere. The film's harsh tone helps cement the tension build up as well as the sincerity of the story. Jilm Mickle is a cinematic force not to be reckoned with. He displays a badass way of film making and I'm sure this is only the beginning of many good things to come. I only wish this film had the same distribution and marketing advantages of other lesser films like a Scream 4 or a Priest 3D in which to give a broader audience a chance to marvel at this remarkable film...but, such is life.
I do hope that you find a way to watch Stake Land. It is in limited release now as well as On Demand. It is well worth the effort and time. While it does display many of the usual tropes you would find in films like The Road and the aforementioned Zombieland...it definitely brings its own unique intensity to the storytelling and delivers stand-out performances from all of the actors. It is the definition of "must see".
Recommendation: Find a Way to Watch Stake Land as Quickly as Possible!
Oh yeah...these vampires don't fucking sparkle in the sunlight, either.
Thanks for reading,