July 31, 2011

Stake Land (2010)

"Martin was a normal teenage boy before the country collapsed in an empty pit of economic and political disaster. A vampire epidemic has swept across what is left of the nation's abandoned towns and cities, and it's up to Mister, a death dealing, rogue vampire hunter, to get Martin safely north to Canada, the continent's New Eden."

With only two days left until "Stake Land" is released on DVD and Blu-ray, I thought I'd better write a review of it so that you can all rush out and get yourself a copy, or not, as the case may be.

"Stake Land" is yet another in a long line of post-apocalyptic road movies. Usually they come brimming with zombies or crazy people but this time we're really lucky and get both. There's a slight variation in that the zombies in "Stake Land" are called vampires but, even though they have fangs, they still look very much like zombies to me.

I'll be completely blunt about this, "Stake Land" is no more a vampire movie than "The Last Man on Earth". If you are expecting transformations into bats, immortals moaning about their longevity, or even glitter, this is not the film for you. These guys are more like a fusion of the feral Klingon-speakers from "30 Days of Night" and the running Rage-zombies from "28 Days Later". There's no humanity left to them at all except, of course, when there are "mutations". Yeah, the backstory tries to be far too complicated for its own good.

Added to this there are a bunch of religious zealots running around who believe that the vampires were sent by God. The social commentary, if that's what it is, has a good swipe at these "Christian" fanatics who are trying to control everybody. I see no Christianity in this "Brotherhood" though because I'm not stupid enough to buy into the film's prejudices. I'm sure less discerning viewers will be more in on the "joke" even if it's yet another clich├ęd stereotype among so many others in this movie.

Battling against these so-called vampires and nutjobs are a bunch of people you've never heard of plus Kelly McGillis as a nun and Danielle Harris with her eyebrow. Well, to be fair, Danielle Harris couldn't really be in the film without it. She's made more unattractive with a load of padding because her character is supposed to be pregnant. Yuck. No sexy stuff in this film then.

The hero, if I can even call him that, is some teenage kid called Martin (played by Connor Paolo) who is beyond irritating. I have no idea whether it's because of the lack of acting ability or if the character is just intentional awkward but his uselessness will get on your nerves. Having him be the narrator of the film was a poor choice too as it's sometimes hard to tell what the mumbler is saying. It took me until a signpost with graffiti on it appeared later in the film to realise that his older (and more traditionally heroic) vampire-slaying partner was actually named "Mister" and not "Lister" (like Craig Charles' character from "Red Dwarf") as I thought the kid had called him.

Nick Damici plays the aforementioned vampire slayer which is no surprise since the role is not much more than an even surlier version of his character from "Mulberry Street" (2006) which was, of course, another apocalyptic-style movie. The similarities are obvious and intentional as both movies were directed by Jim Mickle.

I'm not sure what to make of Jim Mickle as a director yet. He seems to do a hell-of-a-lot on a small budget but suffers from "Stephen King syndrome" by killing off characters you like and not being able to do endings. The stupid ending of "Stake Land", which I'm not going to spoil for you, was very disappointing. For me, it was such an anticlimax.

Gorehounds (how I hate that term) will undoubtedly love "Stake Land" for all the practical effects and gruesome make-up. There's enough blood and guts to satisfy anyone even if they aren't the mythical slobbering dogs of horror fandom. I'm sure we need a new expression for the kind of people who enjoy gruesome squishiness in horror movies other than the overused "gorehound" as I've yet to encounter anyone with an IQ that low but I'll save that rant for another time. I'm sure there really are some people who will buy this film just for the effects or the kills and couldn't care less about the story.

That's the problem with films of this type. Usually nobody cares about the characters except for the writers as it's all melodrama. I honestly believe that a lot more effort was put into the characterisation in "Stake Land" than in most horror movies but it wasn't enough. There are still a few moments later on involving the return of the bad guy which jump the shark and ruin it all. There's even a disposable black character trope which was just laziness and completely unnecessary.

"Stake Land" is as derivative and formulaic as can be but it's still an enjoyable film because it's played straight. There's no comic relief at all which I think is to be applauded. Although some people might argue that "Stake Land" takes itself too seriously, I disagree. Horror shouldn't ever be comedy. The two elements need a lot of skill to mix well and, nearly every time somebody tries to do it, horror-comedies end up being neither one thing or the other. It's a refreshing change to actually have a real, albeit very generic, horror movie again.

I'm rating "Stake Land" as just average even though I enjoyed all the action in it, it looked good and I almost cared about the characters. It's a very worthy effort but there was nothing here that I haven't seen done before too many times. If you haven't seen a lot of horror films, you could do a lot worse than watch this one.

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