Amid all the “Twilight” vampire movies and the “Vampire Diaries” on network TV, HBO’s impressive “True Blood”, I’ve been looking for a vampire movie that tries to be different. Last year’s “Daybreakers” was impressive as it portrayed a different side to the vampire myth, it puts the vampires in a world where they rule and the human race their food is in short supply. Well, being on vacation, I stumbled on a simple Indie vampire film called “Stake Land”; which isn’t exactly a horror film but rather is an action-human drama that has vampires in it. Please don’t expect scares and everything when you see this film, since there is hardly any. It is more like “Zombieland” without the jokes that uses the backdrop of “The Road”. Oh yeah, there is also a little “The Walking Dead” crammed into it.
In a world that has been driven to chaos and disorder because of a vampire outbreak and then cities are a haven for feral blood suckers, a young man named Martin (Connor Paolo) is taken under the wing of a vampire hunter simply called Mister (Nick Damici, who is a co-writer of the film) after his family has been slaughtered. The two begin to bond as “Mister” teaches Martin whatever he needs to know to survive this rough new world. They move around a lot, going to one isolated town after the other, they take in fellow-travelers, a pregnant girl, a nun (Kelly McGillis) and an ex-marine. They experience several moral crises and they unfortunately has pissed off the leader of a religious brotherhood called, well, the “Brotherhood” led by Jebediah Loven (Michael Cerveris) with whom they will encounter more than once. Oh, expect Martin to grow into manhood, learn some neat fighting skills and fall in love several times….
“Stake Land” is a B-movie and a post-apocalyptic drama but not a sci-fi one at that. The world in the film is something where vampires have drawn humanity into seclusion and have caused humans to try to survive within their own limited resources. Much of the details of this new world is rather undefined but the occasional narration by Martin and the radio broadcasts does give the viewer some detail. I think it would be safe to assume that while humanity fought back and nearly won against the vampires, the effects of the attack is still being felt; what happens is a world where laws are no longer respected and the one law that has taken hold is the one that allows one to survive. Humans are holed up in small guarded towns, and the threat of the vampires are secondary compared to the threat of the religious zealots who believe that the undead are God’s judgment. This film is set on the backdrop of a landscape where hardly anything moves and things are only available to be bartered with, where vampire fangs is like money. Clearly, in this world, something has gone horribly wrong, and there is no way to salvage the past civilization.
The film is more an action drama than a horror movie but it does have a decent share of blood and gore. The splatter effects are pretty good, but the scares are none-existent. Much of the film focuses on the relationship between “Mister” and Martin, their relationship is more like a father-son kind of thing, as Martin is taught what he needs to survive. It is like a ‘coming-of-age’ kind of deal, boy is taught, experiences life, learns to know between morality and wrong, and learns to make his own choices. “Mister” is unnamed to both the viewer and the characters to express that his time with Martin will be short, and names define a relationship. Loven is an opportunist, and the ‘brotherhood is a lot worst than the vampires themselves. The nun, the ex-marine and the pregnant woman are stages that life goes into and teaches Martin to learn more about the dealings of this world through interactions with them.
The film is really decently acted, but I do have to say that the direction by Jim Mickie and the script that he also co-writes does need to be a little more polished as it omits some details. There were times that the film was just about to go into really interesting territory and all of sudden it jumps to the next scene. The film needed a little tighter editing, as it does play about 9-10 minutes longer than it should have. Much as I liked its premise, it wasn’t original and there were times that I felt that it missed most of its potential. The qualities of the vampire creatures are somewhat mindless and feral but zombie-like. They are still vulnerable to sunlight, sensitive to light and have superhuman strength. There was some oddness to the vampires and I hoped for more development, but I could see why the filmmakers went this route
Regardless, I have to say that a vampire movie doesn’t really need to be ‘great’ nor does it has to serve up horror elements to become entertaining. “Stake Land” is a decent vampire-drama, it was good enough as a B-movie and it sure had the right ambitions at heart. I found that the flaws in its script and rather ragged direction had enough charms for me to look past them.
Timid Recommendation for vampire movie fans [3+ Out of 5 Stars]
What did you think of this review?