- on Monday, 08 August 2011 16:04
- by Loron Hays
Finally, a serious take on the modern day vampire from a team of Americans arrives. Stake Land, directed by Jim Mickle, is an unsettling and atmospheric post-apocalyptic thriller. Think The Road with fangs and lots and lots of blood and you’ll understand just how serious and how smart this horror film is. A world without end, huh? Not if Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici have their way. Genuine and gritty, StakeLand’s scope and narrative buzz is nothing short of epic.
The country is desolate. The land is burned by fires and swarming with the ugliest and grittiest blood-soaked vampires you’ve ever seen. Emerging from the nightmare is one team of killers, Mister (Damici) and the orphaned Martin (Connor Paolo), with only survival on their minds. While not father and son, their relationship of teacher and mentor, at times, crosses that paternal line because of the horror of their circumstances. A strange virus has ravished the world and, over time, turned much of its inhabitants into vampires. Armies have fallen. The world’s governments are gone. Only select groups of people survive and, in order to find those settlements, you have to do some serious killing and mining of vampire teeth.
The duo, on their way to New Eden (formally Canada), encounter some serious nasty forms of vampires and other virus-formed mutants known as berserkers. Heavily loaded and well-seasoned, the virus killers also encounter survivors Sister (Kelly McGillis), Willie (Sean Nelson), and the pregnant Belle (Danielle Harris) all on the road to a better place. Unfortunately for them, the newly-assembled team is also being stalked by a crazed zealot, Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris), and his insane followers who, at times, are far more deadly than the demons ravishing the countryside. A bloody path is forged toward New Eden between the vampires and the humans.
Rich with atmosphere and some seriously strong characterization, Stake Land – while not all that original (it’s a tale of survival after all) – is cinematically bad-ass in how it handles the on-screen action. No, I’m not talking about Crank fuel-injected stylings here. Writer-director Mickle pays respect to the audiences and concentrates on character throughout the picture. Yes, even the camera follows this simple rule. Action is part of the atmosphere. The characters, amazingly, come first. Sure, fists and knives and teeth fly across the field of vision with a fair share of guts and gore, but the killing is always secondary to the plot. Poignancy is what the camera yields to. It isn’t the violence. It isn’t the gore. It’s character.
As it should be.
Make no mistake, Stake Land literally goes for the throat and delivers one hell of a frightmare but, much to the credit of its writers and director, it also presents us with human evolution: from wide-eyed wonderment to beautifully jaded sentimentality.
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity.
Director: Jim Mickle
Writer: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle
Cast: Danielle Harris; Kelly McGillis; Connor Paolo; Bonnie Dennison; Nick Damici
Tagline: The most dangerous thing is to be alive.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I've seen things you wouldn't believe."
Distributor: Dark Sky Films
Official Site: www.stakelandmovie.com
Release Date: No wide theatrical release
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: August 2, 2011
Synopsis: America 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 (Connor Paolo) is taken under the wing of a grizzled, wayward hunter (Nick Damici) 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 (Kelly McGillis) 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 headed by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) that interprets the plague as the Lord's work.
Available on Blu-ray - August 2, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: LPCM 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region A locked
Shot with the Red One digital camera, Stake Land literally looks like a big-budgeted Hollywood production. The smart-looking digital-to-digital 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is stamped with precise detail and rich colors. In fact, I’ve never seen this much texture before from an independent production. Black levels are vibrant and inky but never bleed or overcompensate for other colors. Blues are stylistically heavy and the sound – presented here with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track – is exceptional.
- There are two feature-length commentaries: one that concerns the acting side of Stake Land from Jim Mickle, Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Larry Fessenden, and Brent Kunkle and the other concerning the production side of things from Mickle, Peter Phok, Adam Falk, Ryan Samul, Graham Reznick, and Jeff Grace.
While the lively commentary from its filmmakers and actors might be enough for some enthusiasts, StakeLand’s supplemental material is also exhaustive. It includes a feature-length making of documentary and a series of strong character prequels that tell the story (in a live-action manner) of each character before the movie begins. It’s a smart decision and this, along with a series of informative production diaries, makes for a hell of a time looking at exactly how StakeLand was made. Gentlemen, this is how you handle supplemental material.
- Going for the Throat: The Making of ‘StakeLand’ (62 min)
- Production Video Diaries (49 min)
- SevenCharacter Prequels (34 min)
- Theatrical Trailer