Directed by Jim Mickle, who impressed with his debut movie, Mulberry Street, a low-budget film that tried to put a different spin on the zombie/infected subgenre of horror, Stake Land is a marked step up in quality even if it doesn’t add anything truly original to the burgeoning canon of vampire movies already out there. It’s no small compliment indeed to say that Mickle’s movie can immediately be allowed to nestle nicely alongside the better pointy-toothed films around.
Mister (played by Nick Damici, proving to be an excellent hardass) and a young lad named Martin (a great turn from Connor Paolo) are travelling across an America that has seen its population decimated by vicious vampires. The opening sequence sets up just how vicious and unfeeling they are so if you get past that then you’re all set for anything that the film can throw at you (and it throws some blood-soaked treats, let me tell you). As well as the threat from the vampires there is also the threat, ever-present, from other people, be they opportunists, cannibals or religious fanatics. But, despite the odds, a few people join Mister and the kid and the two soon become a five. More people, however, equals more risk and more hindrances en route to the hope that may lie in New Eden.
While it’s often a meditation on the social breakdown and the rules that enable self-preservation, make no mistake, Stake Land also does enough every few scenes or so to make it a fantastic, gory treat. With its stylish and gorgeous visuals, great FX work and top notch acting all covering the framework of something trying to give a bit of a fresh spin on the vampire tale I’ll say that I was even comparing this favourably to Near Dark in my mind.
The cast are all great. As well as Damici and Paolo we have genre fave Danielle Harris appearing, Kelly McGillis putting in a great turn, Michael Cerveris being brilliantly menacing as the superbly-named Jebedia Loven and Sean Nelson gamely struggling to make an impression as the one character who feels quite underwritten.
It’s quite clear that Mickle has a bigger budget this time around than he did with his feature debut and it’s also quite clear that he tries to get every dollar up onscreen. The script (co-written by the director and his star, Damici, just as Mulberry Street was) is decent, though it has the standard weary voiceover that this kind of material can often lend itself too.
The creature effects, and the moments of blood spillage, are superb, often showing something a little different from the norm while very much pleasing fans of the red stuff.
The movie somehow walks a fine line between stylised, cool moments of violence and a grittier sense of doing whatever needs done to stay alive – I don’t know quite how it works but it does.
I thought Mulberry Street wasn’t a bad film but I didn’t love it so I actually came to view Stake Land with some minor trepidation, that certainly won’t happen the next time I see a horror movie from Mickle.
Stake Land is out in UK cinemas 17th June 2011.
DIRECTOR: JIM MICKLE
STARS: NICK DAMICI, CONNOR PAOLO, KELLY MCGILLIS, DANIELLE HARRIS, MICHAEL CERVERIS, SEAN NELSON
RUNTIME: 98 MINS APPROX