An outbreak of vampirism plunges American in to a post apocalyptic nation where only the toughest can survive. Stake Land follows hardened vampire hunter, known only as Mister (Nick Damici) and his young companion Martin (Connor Paolo) as they travel across the United States, through locked-down towns, searching for sanctuary and slaying any vampires that cross their path.
On the surface Stake Land is essentially a road movie set in post apocalyptic America so comparisons with Zombieland are natural, especially considering the similarity of the titles. However, unlike the comedy that takes a light hearted approach to a nation in chaos, Stake Land’s view is much more serious and the characters care about a lot more than finding the last Twinkie. Where Zombieland’s Tallahassee and Columbus are forced together the Mister and Martin pairing is closer, similar to that of a father and son. Mister becomes the father figure Martin requires after his family are slaughtered by vampires, Mister adopts him as his apprentice and begins teaching him the rules of survival.
Throughout the film the director manages to keep this films conventional narrative hidden behind frights and interesting plot developments, but the problems arise in the third act where things begin to follow an all too familiar pattern. Much like the zombies in I Am Legend, the vampires work well as mindless, bloodthirsty freaks, but as soon as they develop an intellect they lose believability and therefore are no longer terrifying.
It is increasingly common films such as the Twilight Saga and television shows such as True Blood and The Vampire Diaries to focus on new founded ‘vampires with a soft side’ whose aim is to protect a human girlfriend instead of seducing victims in to becoming unwilling blood donors. In its most popular form the contemporary vampire appears as a chiselled, good looking man capable of super-human abilities – and love. The new characters have become instantly popular and brought in more audiences with posters of Edward Cullen and Stefan Salvatore littering teenage girls’ bedroom walls worldwide.
Stake Land director Jim Mickle takes all the good looks and romance out of the vampire and depicts a ghoulish freak that has an uncontrollable thirst for human blood. These vicious beasts show clear influence from, and at first glance are easily mistaken for, zombies. The grotesque deformities and unrelenting violence of these feral vampires could not be further from the glittery, floppy haired variety we’ve grown to expect. Mickle’s use of extreme gore and unsettling scenes reflect the brutality of vampires and, similarly to films such as 30 Days of Night, his vampires are little more than predators, hungry for their next taste of human blood.
Although at times Stake Land strays off of the path and becomes a little predicable it still achieves a darkly nightmarish vision of the effects on human race following an outbreak of vampires. And in doing so successfully offers an escape from the ‘loveable’ vampires that are all too common.
Stake Land is due for release on DVD and Bluray on 10 October 2011