Saturday, February 8, 2014

Movie Review: Stake Land (2010)

I've had this movie in my queue for freaking ever it seems like. I kept Stake Land there because of its 3 and a half star rating but was still weary of it because I was afraid it would be just another post-apocalyptic voyage tale. And, to a point, it is that kind of movie. However, the technical skill and emotional focus is what sets apart this little gem from some of the rest.

After saving teenager Martin from the vampire that slaughtered his family, mysterious hunter Mister takes Martin under his wing in the fight for survival. The two head north to the safety of a place called "New Eden," stopping in several locked-down towns along the way and picking up new members to add to their group. The vamps are not their only problem, though, as they soon run afoul of a religious cult called The Brotherhood.

The world, post-apocalypse, in Stake Land is much like you've seen in other movies, although those probably had zombies instead of vampires. And actually, the vampires are much like zombies in this film, insofar that the way they are portrayed is as simple monsters with no human side at all. No explanation is given for the appearance of the vampires in the first place but that doesn't matter. The film is more centered on the characters and the journey they take with the vampires in the background, mostly because they are only a threat during the night. The new world that Mister and Martin travel around in is just desolate and dreary enough, giving the movie a nice atmosphere all the way through.

Though none of the characters are given much of a backstory (if any), the actors all manage to make each character their own and give them their own personality. There's no shortage of talent either, both from seasoned and well-known actors like Kelly McGillis and Danielle Harris, and from newcomers and unknowns like Nick Damici and Connor Paolo who play Mister and Martin respectively. Mister is the most interesting character of the bunch, which is why his lack of backstory was so frustrating. The way Damici plays him as the typical hardass with a heart gold begs for more information on how he came to be the man he is, but no help is given there. Paolo is pretty impressive even though he still needs to work on his emotional range a bit. Martin's voiceover is not exactly bothersome, it's just not needed. All of the sometimes flowery and philosophic things he VOs are represented even better by the movie's visuals, so I don't know why they even bothered.

Speaking of visuals, Stake Land is a pretty movie. There's obviously some real skill behind the camera with director Jim Mickle, who surprisingly only has four movies under his belt. One is the remake of We Are What We Are, which I wasn't too excited about before but now I am if it involves this kind of talent. The story is relatively small, staying with our characters, and Mickle doesn't rely much on showing sweeping views of the landscape. The coloring and lighting changes to match the tone of the scene, and there are some really beautifully composed shots that I wish I could get stills of to show here.

If we gotta talk vamps, I say that they look good in Stake Land. They do look a bit like the Buffy vamps from season 7, though. Just saying. The special effects are pretty much awesome looking all around. From the vampires themselves, to the staking deaths, to burned up bodies strewn around the street, this is not some shitty independent movie with ketchup for blood. The one really horrible thing they show is right at the beginning, in the flashback scene of the death of Martin's family. The vampire is slurping down on Martin's infant brother or sister and then casually drops the body when its done. That's just not right.

Normally my biggest problem with apocalypse movies is the requisite group of crazies who only exist to rape and murder all the nice people in the movie. We do have one of those groups in Stake Land - the aforementioned Brotherhood, whom we first meet when we see two of them chasing after a nun who they either raped or tried to rape. Mister brutally kills the two men without question, and this is what sets off their vendetta against them for the rest of the movie as one of the men he killed is the son of the Brotherhood's leader, the crazy Jebedia Loven. I didn't mind the use of this crazy group trope so much here, though, because they are the only bad people in the movie. The groups of survivors Mister and Martin meet in these lockdown towns are good people trying to make a life, and there's none of that crap about not being able to trust anyone just because you don't know them. Based on their actions that continuously get more fucked up as the movie goes on, it's clear that the Brotherhood is more of a threat than the vampires. I mean, Jebedia has a tattoo on the back of his bald head. He has to be evil.

Stake Land is another one of those movies that doesn't get mentioned all that much, and it really should.  Maybe you've seen movies similar to it before, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that Stake Land is impressively shot and acted. I'd definitely watch it again.

1 comment:

  1. Although I didn't like We Are What We Are (bored me), I still would love to see this one