Stake Land

stake land

Director: Jim Mickle
Screenwriter: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Cast: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris
Runtime: 98 mins
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 17 October 2011 on DVD and BR

Synopsis: A band of humans try to survive in a post-apocalyptic America that has been ravaged by vampires.

Jim Mickle’s apocalyptic, horror, western, road-movie is the best vampire film since Let The Right One In, not that it bares much resemblance to that Swedish masterpiece. Where Tomas Alfredson’s film excelled in its use of vampire lore to mirror the loneliness of a bullied youth, this 2011 effort uses the backdrop of an America ravaged by bloodsuckers to make a point about social and economic decline, as well as to challenge the way in which humanity in desperation can manifest their faith in violent ways.

A world in which religious extremists attack peaceful settlements by dropping in ravenous vamps from helicopters, those who cling to humane behaviours must drift across a wasted America in constant fear, both from the living and the dead. The philosophy is reminiscent of Romero’s zombie series, but this outlook is far grittier than those films’ satirical, comic book sentiments, and the film is at its most successful when it follows a group of people banding together as a pseudo-family in a dying world, trying to survive with a semblance of dignity.

20121213-092235.jpg Whilst the film is prone to lapse into generic treatment of characters and action when the plot calls for vamp-fight-development, the characterisations are strong and, particularly in the grueling third act, each member of the group serves a stirring, poignant purpose.

Made on a shoestring budget (the fact that it shows in some action scenes and the film doesn’t suffer from it is a testament to its strength) Mickle is able to navigate contentious areas that big money productions would not dare. The generic touchstones can be comforting – there are more than a handful of Yippy-Ki-Yay vamp slaying moments – but this is ultimately a more mature treatment of the genre(s) than it may first seem and it can be unflinchingly bleak.

Verdict: Truly one of the most thoughtful horror films in recent years and the arrival of an exciting new talent, this should be a step towards reinvigorating an increasingly empty genre. ****

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