The vampire apocalypse film, Stake Land, starts its limited theater run with the IFC center in New York today. It’s currently scheduled to move to Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Columbus and Cleveland next. To keep updated on the list of towns and dates, visit the official Facebook page here. So… other than a world overrun with bloodsuckers, what is Stake Land?
It’s the newest film from Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, the creative team behind the innovative zombie film, Mulberry Street (released as part of the “Horrorfest II: 8 Films to Die For” event in 2007). While our crew is very appreciative of Mulberry Street, our very good friend… let’s call him Pseudo, is a super fan. We were excited to have him along for a fantastic screening of the film at the Philadelphia Cinefest where many of the cast and crew members were in attendance. There are a handful of people we would consider honorary members of Final Girl Support Group; that we would trust with a guest blog. Pseudo is one of the few. But first, a synopsis… -Jenny Dreadful
The America of STAKE LAND is a lost nation. When an epidemic of vampirism strikes, humans find themselves on the run from vicious, feral beasts. Cities are tombs and survivors cling together in rural pockets, fearful of nightfall.
When his family is slaughtered, young Martin is taken under the wing of a grizzled, wayward hunter whose new prey are the undead. Simply known as Mister, the vampire stalker takes Martin on a journey through the locked-down towns of America’s heartland, searching for a better place while taking down any bloodsuckers that cross their path.
Along the way they recruit fellow travelers, including a nun who is caught in a crisis of faith when her followers turn into ravenous beasts. This ragtag family unit cautiously moves north, avoiding major thoroughfares that have been seized by The Brethren, a fundamentalist militia that interprets the plague as the Lord’s work.
Our collective rating is 4.5. First, we’ll let Pseudo do the talking…
The thing that impressed me about Mulberry Street, the previous movie by this crew, was that every single character had a story that extended beyond the boundaries of the movie. It was often not made explicit, but you knew that these people had lives, and it helped to ground the movie and make it more human. I was expecting and hoping for more of the same from Stakeland, and I got it. Only Martin, the orphaned main character, and Mister, Martin’s gruff and deadly mentor, are people who seem to reveal everything about themselves. Martin in that the movie follows his life, which really seems to begin with the movie’s first scene, and Mister who almost doesn’t seem like a real person as much as an embodiment of everything necessary to stay alive and human in the wake of the movie’s apocalypse, which he then passes on to Martin.
I could write an entire essay about Mister, played by the movie’s co-writer and star of Mulberry Street Nick Damici, but he is another reason why this movie shines. While he’s your typical gruff, super-effective badass wandering the apocalypse, he ends up going askew of the archetype. Instead of grumbling about how you can only trust yourself until a virtuous love interest melts his heart and shows him how to trust again, Mister has a clear morality from the get-go. He doesn’t abandon innocent people to their fate when he thinks he can help it, and he doesn’t abide cruelty.
The movie’s take on the apocalypse is also refreshing. Instead of a barren wasteland of empty buildings and bleached skeletons, the protagonists wander through areas that, in the daylight, are full of life. Civilization’s progress has come to a stop and regressed a bit, but there are still pockets of people that have markets and give haircuts and find ways to keep going. It is, to date, my favorite depiction of a post-apocalyptic world.
I was excited about this movie as soon as I heard about it because of the work done on Mulberry Street and I am satisfied. I think Damici and Mickle, the co-authors, star and director, of these two movies, are doing some of the best work in the horror genre. I think their ideas are creative and unique, and I think they lend such strong and real characters to their movies that their writing is a strong example of the possibilities horror has as not just cheap thrills and gore that it gets written off as.
Additional thoughts from members of FGSG:
Crowbait says: We had a real treat at our showing because Damici and Mickle were there with us and even had time for a little Q and A at the end. When asked about motivation for the character of Mister, Damici said he used John Wayne from The Searchers as a reference and the Western flavor carries over from his character into the rest of the film. Towns are isolated outposts in a dangerous wilderness. Townsfolk are suspicious of newcomers but still, people have to live their lives and band together to survive.
Mickle also commented that working with small towns out in Pennsylvania was great because locals were happy to be extras and provide whatever they could to make his film better. For example, what was supposed to be a panel truck parked across the road as a makeshift gate became a train engine blocking a crossing just because someone had access to it.
Jenny Dreadful: I pretty much agree with the gents. It was great to get a chance to see this film and to see the creative team answer questions afterward. It’s also notable that Stake Land is an Apocalyptic setting that feels real. Complete with frightening religious zealots and crowded market places. That… hell, might not even be an apocalypse. Just a point where humanity needs to struggle and start over. It doesn’t revel in violence and focuses on humanity, but it doesn’t flinch from disturbing imagery either when it serves the plot. The bestial vampire attacks are vicious. I’ve been sick to death of vampires in media for some time, with the exception of Let the Right One In, but I am very satisfied to find another fresh take on the old tropes. I may have a quibble or two, like unnecessary voiceovers in places or silly villain moments, but I think it’s an excellent film and I’d recommend it.
In short, we are fans. We look forward to seeing what Mickle and Damici have in store for us next.