“Stake Land” is that type of movie that many indie film fans will take a liking to, primarily since every frame glitters with a Sundance gloss that make it suitable for the independent niche that’s become so popular in 2011. Which is not at all a criticism, but the film often feels like it’s appealing mainly to the indie buffs before the horror fans and that may alienate movie geeks to some degree. “Stake Land” from Jim Mickle is yet another post apocalyptic nightmare from Hollywood that ponders on the question: What if vampires took over the world? Mickle paints this world in such a gritty disgusting zeal with blood soaked carnage and raving maniacal vampires, that it often feels like a sequel to “30 Days of Night.”
The vampires in question are hybrids of zombies, the typical blood sucker, and ragers from “28 Days Later” all of whom lumber around growling and desperately try to cling to some form of human flesh for sustenance. And like the previous films, most of the tension is reliant on characters sinking in to rooms and closed in corners they shouldn’t, while the vampires almost always get a jump on their victims but never quite get their meals, in the end. They’re much too stupid and clumsy to properly trap their consumption, as the infection proves to be much smarter than the individuals hosting said infections. The monsters here are powerful but not enough to where they pose a threat a la “Zombieland.”
That’s the real caveat to “Stake Land” unfortunately. The enemies simply don’t pose enough of a threat. They can be shot to be stunned. They can be staked in the heart. They hate the sunlight. And they can be jabbed in the back of the neck to cut off spinal function. One too many weakness if you ask me. At one point our anti-hero Mister (Nick Damici is fantastic as the infinitely wise and resourceful Mister) is thrown in to an orgy of vampires waiting in the woods and he manages to fight them off enough to garner a ticket in to the second half of the film. That said, the vampires are monstrously gory and brutally terrifying, anxiously clawing at the heroes and screaming at the top of their lungs in hunger from the shadows, they’re a real nemesis to behold. Especially when they begin to wise up mid-way.
Director Mickle is not happy just to tell a story, instead he delves in to dreams and back story through flashbacks showing us within the confines of the budget, how the world ended under the claw and tooth of the vamp, and how this new world created something worse to fear than vampires. What’s worse than monsters in these apocalyptic epics? Anyone? That’s right, say it with me: Humans! Cannibals, hunters and settlers, all warring angry men. Most of the duration of “Stake Land” revolves around the war between Mister and his apprentice and the religious cannibal Jebediah, a vicious zealot whose intentions are never quite made clear.
But when Mister crosses him, they rebel against the apocalypse and enter in to a feud that outweighs the menace outside their doors. You have to appreciate Jim Mickle’s approach toward the sub-genre as a hardcore fiasco of clashing ideals and thoughts on the undead as religion inevitably takes its turn in the perspective of these maniacal beings and the shit soon hits the fan. One of the best performances is also from Danielle Harris a young pregnant mom on the verge of birth who may hold the key to humanity’s survival. If she can outwit the vamps, that is. “Stake Land” is a well paced and very well made monster movie and one that I intend to mark down as one of the finer horror entries of the year solely for its ability to create a thick disgusting world filled with vampires that depict them as valid threats and not romantic animals that work on pure emotion but instead pure blood lust.