Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Stake Land (2011)

**This review contains spoilers**

Unaware of the vampire plague sweeping through the United States, a teenager named Martin (Connor Paolo) and his family work on fixing their only car one night. But a vampire attacker slaughters Martin’s mother, father, and infant sibling. Alone and looking for help, Martin is saved by a loner and ruthless vampire hunter named Mister (Nick Damici). With Mister’s help, Martin gets his first vampire kill by driving a stake through the heart of the vampire, who murdered his family.

Using vampire fangs (vampire fangs can also be used to buy food and other goods, because anyone, who possesses vampire fangs receives the utmost respect) as fare to pass through the blockades in the ravaged and lawless United States, Mister and Martin journey north in hopes of finding the rumored safe haven free of vampires. Along the way, Mister rescues a Sister (Kelly McGillis) from two thugs, and Mister agrees to let The Sister tag along for the trip up north.

But Martin, Mister, and The Sister run into some trouble, when they’re taken hostage by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris), the leader of The Brotherhood, a vicious Christian extremist group that controls most of the post-vampire world in the United States, and The Brotherhood controls the airwaves by pushing their religious propaganda to listeners. Wanting revenge for the death of his sixteen year old son (Mister killed Loven’s son, who happened to be one of the men, who raped and attacked The Sister), Loven decides to leave Mister in the darkness to fight for his life against four vampires, while taking Martin and The Sister as his hostages.

Eventually, Martin and The Sister escape Loven and The Brotherhood. After surviving Loven’s trap, Martin finds Mister first and The Sister makes the trio whole again during a reunion in a new town. After an attack from The Brotherhood, Mister regroups with a new gameplan, allowing a young pregnant woman named Belle (Danielle Harris) and an ex-Marine named Willie (Sean Nelson) to join the team. Mister continues to train Martin against vampire attacks, while teaching him life lessons, but Loven is out for revenge, and will stop at nothing to kill Mister and everyone under his command.

Mister is a hard-ass and a man’s man. Damici’s performance as the rugged hunter is spot on, and he was able to show some believable vulnerability during Mister’s more softer moments (training and mentoring Martin, carrying Belle through the woods, because she was exhausted from too much walking, etc.). Paolo’s Martin is the type of character you want to root for (more on that later). He’s a shy and scared kid, who’s forced to adapt and survive in a hellish situation, and because of his extended screen time (Martin is the main character), I give the nod to Paolo for the second best performance in this film. BUT my runner up would be Harris. Although, her character doesn’t appear until the later stages of the film, and when she finally pops up, Belle doesn’t last long. And Cerveris is decent enough as the primary antagonist, doing the best he could with the “delusional, and self-righteous cult leader” character.

Real character depth and a heartfelt story separate Stake Land from other modern-day low budget horror flicks, that feature tons of blood and nasty gore. Martin is easily the best example of this. Martin is put through hell. He witnesses his entire family die brutal and agonizing deaths, and he’s forced to grow up and become a man FAST, or else he won’t last long in the post-vampire plagued US. Mister refuses to let his softer side get in the way, or cloud any issues 98% of the time, but Martin finds some solace in Belle….until Loven returns as a vampire to attack her. And Martin, refusing to let Belle suffer from Loven’s bites, kills her. Martin’s heart is ripped out and stomped on throughout the movie. And you finally get to see the rewarding moment of triumph for Martin’s pain and suffering at the end, when Martin, using Mister’s training, runs out into the night, and kills a vampire on his own without any help from Mister.

Director Jim Mickle pulls everything together by providing the perfect hopeless and dreary atmosphere, and if you’re a fan of vampire flicks, Stake Land is worth the time. Stake Land is a bloody and gruesome post-apocalyptic vampire film, that features a poignant coming of age story. Another surprise for me this year, because after looking at the movie poster, I was expecting another dull and forgettable gorefest. 

Rating: 8/10

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