Actors: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Danielle Harris and Kelly McGillis
Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic word infested with feral vampires, a boy named Martin is taken into the care of Mister, the man who saved his life when his family was slaughtered before his eyes. The two continue to find safety and salvation through a land of survivors who can be there for good, or evil.
This movie got some buzz through various horror sources a few years back, and since it's release on Blu Ray was announced, it was immediately and blindly pre-ordered. I will come out and say that I was very happy with my risky purchase, because this movie delivers.
The film begins with our main character Martin (Connor Paolo) becoming victim of an unexplained epidemic of the most horrifying vampires ever put on screen. The tragedy is not thwarted, and doesn't hold back any punches, as his entire family is laid to a bloody waste. Before Martin can become a victim himself, a mysterious man who we later refer to as Mister (Nick Damici), comes to his aide as they neutralize the threat. It's made very clear that Martin has nowhere to go, and that Mister is reluctantly put in the position of taking Martin under his wing. We are now given the foundation of which an excellently executed story is told.
The goal of these two characters is to reach the rumored "safe lands" of New Eden, which lies north of the now useless border of Canada. In their path is more than just nocturnal beasts. A vicious cult of men have flew off the handle, kidnapping and killing survivors who dare enter their territory.
Stake Land, at its core, is a road film. While the back drop is chalked full of gruesome vampires, dangerous religious cults, and a wild west wasteland of survivors, the film maintains a sense of dignity and deeper theme than most horror movies can ever accomplish. I am not saying it is an original idea (what is anymore?), but the way this film is executed resonates how Dawn of the Dead and Monsters would if the two films had a lovechild.
There are an abundance of themes interwoven, and it makes for a fairly dense layer cake of social commentary and coming of age tales. It is really up to the viewer to dissect those themes, and interpret them for themselves, and that embodies what film making is all about. I have grown to really admire the film for giving me more to think about with each viewing.
However, The key elements that drive this film are the characters, and the visual storytelling. With very little dialogue in comparison to most genre movies of today, the way these actors tell a story with an expression, or an action, brings director Jim Mickle up to the forefront of people I am very interested in seeing more from. It should also be said that the film looks GORGEOUS. Shot on RED with stunning cinematography, the real sense of sorrow and cold is expressed flawlessly. The lack of lavish and bright color drives home the feeling of hopelessness, and things never being like they were before. The makeup in terms of making our actors and actresses look like they have been through hell is intact, as we are NOT given a Hollywood style depiction of life after life. I never seen Danielle Harris or Kelly McGillis look so unattractive, and I love that they do. The special FX makeup should also be noted as the best practical and creature effects I have seen in this entire sub genre.
Music is another of many components that make this film superior to its brothers and sisters out there, and pairs with the visuals perfectly. The subtly and ambiance it brings to the table is more live ammo for the overall storytelling.
As much as the good trumps the bed, a film like this doesn't go without its flaws. I did, however, excuse a great deal of initial complaints I had as I viewed the film more and more. Upon multiple viewings, you are able to pick up on a lot of little details that explain a great portion of the ending of the film. The pacing can also become a bit sluggish in spots, but in the right state of mind, this film plays out like a necessary slow burn.
It is no secret that I do champion this film, and I do not expect everyone who sees it to see it exactly as I do. I do think that it does have its place at the table as one of the greater horror films before it. This film is up there with Near Dark, Dawn Of The Dead, and even The Exorcist in terms of being more than just a horror film.
Stake Land is available on DVD and Blu Ray here in the states, and is recommended as a blind buy if you are a fan of Apocalyptic or Vampire genres.