May 9, 2011

SFIFF54: "Stake Land" Post-apocalyptic Vampires and Scares

12:35 PM

Zombies and vampires are booming genres for entertainment. Both genres offer their fair share of film classics, solid entertainment and bandwagon jumping trendy disappointments. In the case of Stake Land the two genres are fused together as the vampires that threaten the last living humans have zombie inspired origins.

Stake Land follows a teenage boy named Martin (Connor Paolo of Gossip Girl fame) and the mysterious Mister (writer and actor Nick Damici) through a post-apocalyptic world. A plague swept over the earth and left it filled with ghoulish vamps and only a few small pockets of survivors. Martin's family is brutally attacked by one of these vamps and before it can get to him, Mister saves Martin and has Martin help him kill the creature.

From there Martin and Mister stick together, Mister helps train Martin on how to properly kill the creatures with a stake to the heart. They both make there way north in hopes of reaching New Eden, a supposed safe haven.

As in most post-apocalyptic stories, it's really the other survivors, not the creatures, that are the most terrifying of all. Martin and Mister hear about the threat of the Brotherhood, an ever growing and powerful Aryan cult led by insane Jebediah who believes that the plague is Gods way of purifying the land.

En route to New Eden Martin and Mister also meet some friendly survivors a few even join them on their journey: Sister (a nun played by Kelly McGillis of Top Gun), pregnant Belle (Danielle Harris) and Willie (Sean Nelson), a marine who was tied up by the Brotherhood and left to die.

There are some points in the film become where things become a little slow and the constant narration by Martin is a bit trite. On the flip side we receive very little information about the plague or Mister which I found much more successful. It was when the film let the audience watch, rather than listen to Martin's verbal explanation, that it really excelled. Seeing the characters fight and suffer through the seemingly hopeless situation brought about a more intense atmosphere that ached with desperation, suspense and fear.

There are several stand out moments in the film as well: an infant being fed on by a vamp, special types of vamps that require a stake in the base of the skull rather than in the chest (due to the breast plate being too thick to penetrate), when Mister saves Sister, Willie's projectile in the film and the Brotherhood trying to break apart a larger group of friendly survivors with a surprise attack.

Stake Land does not quite reach classic horror proportions but it's definitely worth the watch. It's a solid entry to the horror genre and will win audiences over with scares and it's depiction of humanity as it fights against the vampires, and itself, to survive.

Check out the trailer:

Fun facts from the Q&A with Director Jim Mickle:

  • Stake Land was originally pitches as a web series. There are however a web series of 5 minute character prequels lined up. The Jebediah and Willie prequel are already out.
  • The visual style of the film was influenced by The Grapes of Wrath and era films. Jim emphasized that there is a "naturalistic look that is underdone in horror films".
  • Writer and actor Nick Damici made his own weapons and costume for the character Mister.

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