A recent trend in horror and science fiction films is examining the world not in the midst of disaster, but once it has begun to adjust to the aftermath of a disaster. This can lead to some very interesting examinations of contemporary issues. Winner of the Cadillac People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award, Jim Mickle’s Stake Land is set in a future that includes vampires. But these are not sparkly vampires, nor ones that have souls. These are vampires are little more than animals, and like George A. Romero’s zombie film series, society must adapt to the new world order.
After young Martin’s (Connor Paolo) parents are killed in front of his eyes by a vampire; a stranger known only as Mister, who has become a pro vampire killer, takes the boy under his wing, training him how to kill and survive. They are heading north to New Eden (i.e. Canada), where the cold keeps away the vamps. They occasionally find “live” towns, but for the most part America is deserted. They rescue a nun (Kelly McGillis) from sexual assault, and with her they encounter a religious cult, one of many that have apparently sprung up in the years since the disaster. Mister, Martin, the nun, and two others they pick up make their way slowly by car and on foot north, all the while trying to avoid vampires and religious fanatics, not always successfully.
The film mixes the genres of horror, western, post-apocalypse and road film with a fair amount of success. That is to say, it hits the notes you would expect from a film such as this: the introduction of a drifter with superior street smarts and skills, whose soft side allows him to take Martin along on his journey; the introduction of women who cannot quite hold their own; a fanatical religious clan and their unhinged leader. The character of Mister, played by screenwriter Nick Damici, is a combination of John Wayne, El Mariachi and Snake: he is not immune to cries for help, but he is not such a fool as to go back for those there is no hope of finding alive.
Mickle gives the audience glimpses of the tragedy without fully divulging its origins; this is sensible, as at this point it does not matter why it happened, but whether it is possible for humanity to survive. On the negative side, the film plays too much on the religious fanatic cliché which it far too lazy for Mickle and Damici (at one point early in the film there were hints of cannibals that never materialized, which is also cliché but would have been a little more interesting.) However, the film is never lacking for entertainment, Mickle keeps throwing great chases and kills at the audience, not wanting to delve to much into deeper meaning that is fairly self-evident in small touches, such as old newspapers clippings and graffitied road signs. This is a film about trust: whom do you trust at the end of the world, how do you find a way to live (if it is possible), and who can and cannot be saved. Stake Land essentially a far-better-than-average B-movie, slick in presentation and able to keep up a steady pace.
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