In a post-apocalyptic near future, torn asunder by a strain of feral vampires, a boy is rescued by a hard-bitten (no pun intended) vampire slayer. Taking the boy under his wing, the two hit the road, always in search of collectives of untouched humans while trying to avoid the religious zealots who welcome the destruction of humanity, taking out any vampires that get in the way.
While it is true that vampire movies never truly drop off of the radar, they do have regular surges of popularity. In this reviewers young life span we’ve had the Lost Boys, Near Dark, Fright Night wave of the 80’s, the Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview With A Vampire, Cronos wave of the early 90’s, the Blade, Buffy, John Carpinter’s Vampires wave of the late 90’s, and we are currently experiencing the Twilight inspired resurgence, with the varying qualities that that entails, from the great (Let The Right One In) through the middling (Daybreakers, Cirque Du Freak) to the terrible, god help us (Vampires Suck, Blood: The Last Vampire).
It’s not just movies either, when a fad hits nowadays, it hits across all mediums. Marvel, for instance, have had big vampire related storylines in their X-Men and Ulimates comics, and the title American Vampire is seeing some success over at Vertigo Comics. On television, shows such as True Blood and The Vampire Diaries are great big hits.
As is often the case in these situations, just when you are getting fed up with the entire thing, a sneaky little gem will creep up on you, restoring your faith somewhat. And so it is with Stake Land, from director Jim Mickle, who’s only other outing was the direct to DVD creature feature, Mulberry Street.
The unknown director here works with a cast of good yet relatively unknown actors, so to say the film is punching above its weight is a massive understatement, but it hits its mark with gusto, a raging success on almost every level, and to this reviewers mind, not only one of the best vampire movies of this current wave, but destined to be one of the all time great vampire movies.
Stake Land’s man-and-boy-on-the-road formula lends itself well to an episodic format, as the two meet many different types of people, of the fanged variety and otherwise. It’s not unlike last year’s The Road, borrowing that film’s stoic outlook but being an easier watch thanks to the larger cast and the addition of many badass/brutal action scenes.
The relationship between the two leads and the characters that they encounter are brimming with understated and nuanced emotion, their predicament and sense of hopelessness twisting emotions that would usually be taken for granted.
There is nothing of the romantic sense of vampirism here. In fact Stake Land acts pretty much as the antithesis to The Twilight Saga, which would be welcomed as good news by many, one would imagine. These vampires are none-speaking, primal, animalistic things, somewhere between the reaper vampires of Blade 2 and the 28 Days Later zombies. It is refreshing to come across a vampire flick that has shaken off all the mythological ties and various other nonsensical attributes, so that all we need to know is that they are everywhere, they want to drink our blood, only sunlight, a stake through the heart or a severed spine will stop them, and they have already won.
As a lowish budget production it is all the more impressive, and right on the money. It certainly doesn’t look cheap, the sets and cinematography are very good, ditto the make-up effects and the sparing CG at use. The action is inventive and very, very brutal. There is one element of cliché that doesn’t sit quite right, but at the risk of giving away a spoiler, it shan’t be brought up here, but all in all it is much more than the sum of its parts.
If Stake Land is not as ‘deep’ as Let The Right One In, it is surely more entertaining. It can’t be recommended enough, and further, to vampire and horror fans it is unmissable. Not nearly enough people saw it on its theatrical run, so I urge all to give it a look on its home release.
B+ grade – for originality
B+ grade – for storytelling
B+ grade – for visuals
B+ grade – for action
Overall grade – A- (I understand that doesn’t really make sense, but watch it and you’ll see.)
Stake Land is available on region 1 DVD and Blu-ray from August 2, 2011 and region 2 from October 10, 2011.
Watch the trailer…