Now that I’m back on the horse, I decided to play another round of Netflix Roulette, and while I don’t really believe in fate, higher powers, or the like (sorry to get real there for a second), I can’t help but wonder if my film today was a reward for my perseverance. It’s not that Stake Land was an amazing film… but it was a fun, creative, and fresh … and that’s more than enough in my book… especially since we’re talking about one of the most played out sub-genre of horror: the vampire film.
When I knew I was going to be watching a vampire film, I was instantaneously bummed out. This is perhaps the sub-genre of horror I have the least interest in… and, a large part of me truly believed that there was nowhere new to go with it (unless you’re talking about What We Do in the Shadows… which, everyone should see… right now… do it… seriously… stop reading this post and watch that movie… you won’t regret it… it’s one of the best horror-comedies since Shaun of the Dead)… I’m happy to report that Stake Land proved me wrong… and, the filmmakers did it by borrowing (liberally) from another sub-genre… the zombie movie.
Stake Land begins after the end of the world. We meet our narrator, Martin, a teenage boy whose family is killed by a vampire. He is rescued by a traveling vampire hunter (referred to only as “Mister”). The pair is traveling north to a place called “New Eden” which promises a land free of vampires. Along the way they find (and lose) people who join their crew. This movie owes a great deal to The Walking Dead, which came out the same year (so, we have a bit of a chicken or egg situation here). It also shares some DNA with Zombieland (it makes me wonder whether the studio decided to name it Stake Land in hopes to bank off of that other film’s success), in that a pseudo-family quickly forms between these characters, the two main characters consist of a grizzled older man who is good at dispatching the main monsters (and takes pleasure in it) and a younger kid, and the monsters are fast. However, the main difference is that this movie takes itself seriously, very seriously. There is little in the way of comedy here. That’s where The Walking Dead similarities come in. This movie is brutal in the way it treats its characters. In other words, try not to get attached to anyone because I can’t promise you they won’t meet an awful end. That being said, this movie also has heart (which, to be honest, The Walking Dead lacks nearly completely). While the main bad guys are actually other humans and the vampires are treated more like a force of nature (as is the case in nearly every (at least every good) zombie-movie), there are other good people. This comes through in two ways. First, when Martin and Mister come across other people they jump in to help and end up inviting them along for the trip, At first I felt like this was a bit naive, but after a while I just ended up going with it. It felt like Mister had good radar for determining the innately good… and fellow victims. Second, the survivors come across makeshift towns and (after being searched and demonstrating their good intentions) are welcomed in. So, in the end while The Walking Dead seems to argue that, save for a few, the people with no morals are much more likely to survive the apocalypse, Stake Land appears to be arguing the reverse, that, even after the end of the world, society will try to find a way to survive. Personally, I think The Walking Dead probably has it right… but, I’d truly like to believe in Stake Land (hey… maybe I am an optimist).
This leads me to two other things I really enjoyed about this film. First, there is a bit of an Old-West flare to the film. The world that survives seems to borrow heavily from turn-of-the-nineteenth-century America, which makes sense. Second, this film takes it time with world-building. I am sure the filmmakers (director and co-writer Jim Mickle and co-writer and star Nick Damici) created a guide to this world. What’s nice about the way they do this is it’s implicit. You are rewarded for closely watching this film.
Now, there are a few flaws to this film. First, and actually related to my last compliment, the filmmakers may have bitten off a bit more than they could chew (no pun in intended) in terms of the world they created. Specifically, while the plot is quite straightforward (two characters moving towards a specific geographical goal) so many ideas and concepts are introduced that you can sometimes start to feel overwhelm. Part of me wonders if they originally intended to create a film (or even television) series. Second, the use of voiceover was sometimes helpful (especially when trying to deal with the issue I just brought up)… other times though it reeked of exposition, which was very annoying. Finally (and, to be fair, this may be more of a personal problem I had with the film), I couldn’t help both laugh whenever the characters used the word “vampire”… it just seemed ridiculous. I wish they just stuck with “bloodsuckers”… oh well…
In the end, I think the movie is definitely worth a viewing… especially if you’re looking for a Walking Dead fix during these dark months.