REVIEW BY SUB-EDITOR Ross Hughes
Vampires along with Zombies have had a rough time of late in the horror field. Shaun Of The Dead was the best and probably worst thing to happen to the Zombie genre with many films since being released without the care for scare and making the walking undead nothing but a serious backdrop in an overall funny situation. Vampire’s too have had the rough treatment with the genre now becoming nothing but a stable of hot teenage Vamps fighting over the High School young girl while the under fifteen’s in the cinema cry to be bitten by this new sexy hunk.
Some may say that the two genres have never been so popular and that the two needed to evolve so they did not to fade away from the public eye. There are those who believe Twilight is the best thing too happen to the bloodsuckers for many years, while Zombies weren’t cool until Woody Harrison bumped into Bill Murray at his mansion. But then there are fans like me who just wish to be scared again. I remember the days when these icons were one of the most frightening things on screen, when horror fans could not wait for Christopher Lee to rise again and for another Flesh Eater to cause a stir from behind the grave. Maybe the trend started to buckle when Buffy was born and become this universal hit, I mean if a young girl can take on these fiends with just a gang of friends and a bad ass attitude, while making a mint in franchise, then why make a horror for the over 18 crowd.
To be fair to director Jim Mickle he has risen from this new found craze and tried to be different. His last film Mulberry Street was a critically acclaimed little horror about a Zombie virus attacking a block of flats that won him many fans and his new film is about Vampires and of a few people trying to survive in a world of ruin. To say he is trying to get back the feel of what made these characters tick and loved is an understatement and he should be applauded for going back to the roots that will no doubt make him respected among many fans. But while the undying respect will be no doubt be there, there will also be a sense of frustration that by creating such decent two films, they lack the ingredient that makes good horror films become great horror films, and that is being scary. Like Mulberry Street before it, you will find many things to like about Stake Land, you will no doubt enjoy the film and it may become a top ten best of the year, but one thing that you will all agree on is that for a horror film, it just does not rock your boat. You may have been screaming at Insidious a few weeks back, but Stake Land will just make you curious at how the story develops, and another problem it faces, is the road the characters travel on, is the same path you have seen countless times before.
(Scream Queen Danielle Harris takes a backseat role)
Stake Land offers nothing new to the recent craze of post Apocalyptic America. If you have seen The Road and the Book Of Eli then everything that happens in this film will come to no suprise. America is a wasteland after an epidemic of vampirism strikes, cites are ruined and the remaining survivors are on the run from these vicious, feral beast. When his family is slaughtered, young Martin (Gossip Girl’s Connor Paolo) is saved and taken under the guidance of a grizzled, wayward hunter (Nick Damici) who is only known as Mister, a fearsome vampire stalker who kills Vamps with ease and 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 travellers, including a Sister (Kelly McGillis) who is caught in a crisis of faith when her followers turn into ravenous rapists, a pregnant girl Belle (Danielle Harris) who Martin becomes quite attached to and a former marine in the shape of Willie (Sean Nelson) who joins the fight against the bloodsuckers but also to avoid the human Brotherhood, a fundamentalist militia headed by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) who are more dangerous than the creatures that fill the night.
The non explanation of why the virus struck is a refreshing change. We the viewer are plunged head first into this nightmare world without a safety belt and its a theme that carries throughout the movie. The characters we share the journey with do not get any back-story so its hard to relate to them but that does not mean we can not sympathise for their plight. Mickle seemed intent to just show us a story of this “Family” without the need to bore us of their previous lives Like Mister says to Sister when she does start to tell us about her how she got to this part of her life, “We don’t do stories!” and the film moves on. Mickle probably feels that we the viewer do not really care about how they got there but where they are going to end and while it may put off those who love the deep character driven stories, this ploy does make Stake Land have a real steady flow to the narrative drive.
Unlike The Road which was deep in misery and build up the suspense, this horror like version makes sure its keeps the gore hounds happy with numerous scenes of blood soaked images. There does not seem like a ten minute break before we get to another vampire attack and while I can not fault one or two of the set pieces on display, Stake Land does suffer from a case of repetitive loop in that the whole plot shows a gang moving from A to B, getting attacked, moving from A to B before getting attacked again, there is no variety and sadly offers nothing new to well known formula.
Not quite Twilight is it?
The delights are the simple scenes that you can not help but marvel at. The traps they set around an empty house after they gate crash it when night fall arrives are quite ingenious and for me personally, the best scene of the film is when at one of these houses they stumble across a young Vamp in an attic which brings a much needed emotional pull for the viewer. The thoughts “what would you do?” ring through you mind and its there you realise that this wasteland that Mickle has created has wonderful potential but its wasted on the same old play we have seen countless times.