Review: Stake Land

Film review
Directed by Jim Mickle
Starring Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis, Sean Nelson
Release date: Out now

Society has virtually collapsed after the advent of a vampire epidemic. When his family are massacred by bloodsuckers, young Martin (Paolo) hooks up with leathery vamp-hunter Mister (Damici). As they attempt to find their way to a safe town, they’re joined by other survivors, including a nun (McGillis) and a pregnant woman (Harris). But as well as vampires, they needed to be watchful of a feared cult known as The Brethren…

After subverting familiar zombie tropes with their terrific 2006 undead-rat chiller Mulberry Street, director Jim Mickle and co-writer/star Nick Damici try their hand at refashioning the vampire movie with this pricier follow-up. If it doesn’t quite have the simple power of the duo’s debut, then the equally lugubrious Stake Land is still far more interesting than the majority of mainstream or independent vampire pictures of recent years.

In contrast to the slick, city-bound bloodsucker thrills of Daybreakers, Mickle and Damici stage their vampire apocalypse in the backwaters of America, creating a haunting contemporary western with added fangs. The narrative recalls CBS’s doomsday Jericho as much as it does classic vampire movies, as we witness the social and economic impact of a major catastrophe, with fortified towns reverting to a barter-based economy and fear and suspicion permeating every inch of this new Wild West.

As with Mulberry Street, this is a horror that’s as preoccupied with creating sympathetic, unusual characters as it is in setting up bloody shocks (though we get those too). Connor Paolo’s young hero, Martin (a nice nod to the Romero film of the same name), feels almost as angst-ridden as Bella Swan at times, but he has a likeable, naïve quality that provides a nice counter to the ugly world around him. Kelly McGillis (great to see her back on screen) and Danielle Harris also get to play interesting, emotionally damaged characters, but Damici is the real star here. His taciturn vampire-slayer, Mister, may not be too far removed from Mulberry Street’s ex-boxer Clutch, but he’s a winning mix of mysterious loner and grizzly action hero who occasionally lets his softer side shine through. Like Mister, Stake Land is a tough and gloomy prospect, but it has a lot of heart. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 8/10
The plot is a little meandering and the dialogue occasionally degenerates into all-out corn, but Stake Land is an atmospheric and often surprising vampire drama with an awesome action hero in Damici.

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