Stake Land (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Vampires have taken over the planet. While Martin (Connor Paolo) and his parents seal up their home to prevent the blood-suckers from getting in, a vampire manages to ambush them. A man named Mister (Nick Damici) rescues the teen but sadly it is too late for his family. While on the road, Mister and Martin hear about New Eden, a place of refuge somewhere in Canada, and so they make their way toward it and meet friends along the way: a nun (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant woman (Danielle Harris), and a former Marine (Sean Nelson).
“Stake Land,” written by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle, is successful in providing us images of the land so ravaged by vampires, religious cults, and cannibals, it is initially difficult what to expect. As our protagonists look on from their truck, there is a heavy solemnity in the air as if kindness and humanity have become a rarity.
But a believable environment does not make a movie. As Martin and company move from one location to another, the material often stalls. For instance, instead of fully exploring the motivations and complexities of a religious cult called “Christian Army of Aryans,” we are subjected to multiple and typical vampire attacks. Martin, still heartbroken from losing his parents, forges a bond with the nun and eventually comes to see her as a mother figure. Aside from certain glances which suggest that they have become close, they share not one meaningful or touching conversation designed to lead them to that point in their relationship. They could have talked about many things like the trauma of losing one’s parents and what it means to move on.
The lack of communication between the characters highlights the weak script. Instead of turning inwards when appropriate, it thrusts its audience into another scene featuring a rabid vampire that needs to be shot in the head or driven a stake through its heart.
Martin’s budding sexuality never comes into focus. We see him looking at a girl who he believes he might have a chance with. Nothing much happens there. We see him pocket a deck of cards with nude women printed on the back. Nothing much happens there either. As the ending implies, it is supposed to be Martin’s story. However, looking back, he isn’t given very much to do other than to look sad and scared to stab a vampire. Mister trains Martin how to kill a vampire, martial arts and all, but the montage verges on silliness.
The writers should have allowed the main character to be more colorful and lively to serve as a contrast against a planet overrun by depression and death. The different kinds of vampires are sort of interesting–kid vampires, berserkers, and the like. Mister claims he’d encountered vampires that had mutated. From a biological point of view, it may lead to rapid differentiation of the mutant vampires. I wished one of the characters was a scientist so he can explain to us, specifically, how each group is different. When the vampires hiss, growl, and attack, they all look pretty similar, almost boring. Although not consistently, “Stake Land,” directed by Jim Mickle, does offer a glimmer of an imagination. Is letting loose too much to ask?