Friday, August 26, 2011

DVD Review: Stake Land

Stake Land ***
Directed by: Jim Mickle.
Written by: Nick Damici & Jim Mickle.
Starring: Nick Damici (Mister), Connor Paolo (Martin), Michael Cerveris (Jebedia Loven), Danielle Harris (Belle), Sean Nelson (Willie), Kelly McGillis (Sister), Bonnie Dennison (Peggy).

No recent trend has annoyed me more than the one that tries to make vampires sexy and sympathetic. They aren’t. They are undead killing machines who feat on human blood. Falling in love with a vampire is one step away from necrophilia. The only movies that accomplished this feat successfully were the Swedish film Let the Right One In, and it’s American remake Let Me In, which made its young girl vampire sympathetic, but still made her a blood thirsty monster. I simply cannot wait for the Twilight series to end.

All of this may help to explain why I enjoyed the low budget horror film Stake Land. It takes place in an America that has become overrun by a vampire epidemic, and the small band of survivors who are trying to make their way to Canada, where they hear it is safe. They all know that this may turn out to be mere fantasy - after all, why would vampires obey international borders? - but it gives them something to hold onto. Martin (Connor Paolo) is a young teenage boy who sees his family slaughtered in front of him, but is rescued by the mysterious Mister (Nick Damici, who also co-wrote the screenplay). They are in the South, and so the Canadian border is a long way off. To make matters worse, they don’t just need to dea with the vampires, but also a roving religious group known as the Brotherhood, who has mixed white supremacy with fundamentalist Christianity, into a perverted mix. Their leader is Jebedia (Michael Cerveris), and he doesn’t much like Mister (who looks like he maybe part Native American or Mexican or something else that certainly does not meet Jebedia’s view of the perfect white race). And it certainly does not help that along the way, the pair pick up a Catholic nun (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant teenager (Danielle Harris) and a black man (Sean Nelson).

Stake Land loosely resembles Zombieland from a few years ago, that also featured a young man who teams up with an older, violent man and makes their way through a post apocalyptic American ruled by horror movie creatures. But that film was more comedic in tone, whereas Stake Land takes it much more seriously. There seems to be a myth that when things go to hell, humans will band together for the common good and try to rebuild society. But I think that Stake Land is a little more realistic. It depicts a world that is ruled by fear, where humans band together out of fear. They fear anything that is different, and not exactly like them - whether that’s vampires or other people who don’t think just like they do,

Stake Land was made on a shoestring budget, but that really doesn’t show. This is not a movie based on special effects, but the low tech effects they do use, are creepy and effective. Mainly, this is a movie about this small group of people, trying to live in a brave new world. The performances aid a great deal, as the entire cast feels natural - no one is pushing for effect here, but rather play everything with the right tone of sad weariness, that simply feels right. Even Ceveris, who has the flashiest role as the bad guy doesn’t go over the top. Yes, he is a religious fanatic, but he’s one that feels real. Damici strikes the right note as the man who kills vampires, and has a dark past that he simply will not reveal. He won’t even tell anyone his real name.

The film was directed by Jim Fickle, who finds the right tone for the movie. The film won the People’s Choice award for the Midnight Madness segment at last year’s TIFF. Genre fans are going to love the film, like they did then. The film is intelligent, well made and violent, It’s a horror fans dream.

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