Jim Mickle’s a crazy awesome director. The dude has serious talent. Did you see Mulberry Street? Yeah, heavy sh*t there. I was insanely bummed out when I missed his sophomore effort, Stake Land, at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival. With an April release slated by Dark Sky Films, I finally got to take the post-apocalyptic trip riddled with vampire-esque creatures out for blood. It wasn’t as cool as I pictured it in my head…
Stake Land is a coming-of-age story that follows Martin (Connor Paolo), a young orphan being mentored to go off into the world on his own. Writer Nick Damici plays “Mister”, an unnamed badass protecting Martin from infected vampire-ish creatures roaming the land. The duo head north in hopes of hitting weather that said creatures shouldn’t be able to withstand.
While beautifully shot and uber-violent (at times), I was incredibly frustrated with the characters and pacing. I kept asking myself whom the movie was made for, and couldn’t come to any conclusion. It’s dreadfully boring as the audience spends most of the time watching nothing happening. Mickle would blow my mind with some insane sequences – like when a town has a slew of vampires dropped on ‘em from a circling helicopter – and then immediately go back into boring mode. I’m not sure how much of this can be attributed to budget, an uneven score, or just poor editing, but it did feel like there was a pretty good movie in there somewhere. We get to see a vampire eat a baby for God sake!
Even more frustrating were the bleak, colorless characters. It was insane how little I cared for Martin, Mister, and even the pregnant Belle (played by Danielle Harris, who has top billing on IMDB even though she’s barely in the movie.) The shocker is how cool Mister could have been, I mean seriously, we could have easily had a new Ash or Reggie on our hands. All of the protagonists lacked a certain sense of energy, urgency and mystique. It was as bland and dry as you can get…
Even through all of the flaws, Mickle and Damici deliver a highly ambitious film that was probably too much to handle. Stake Land felt like the ideas of all 6 of George Romero’s zombie movies crammed into one vampire film. Everything becomes sort of common knowledge and is brushed over, even though the apocalypse is as fresh as ever. How the heck do they know so much, especially if the vampires are “evolving”.
Putting aside logic gaps and pacing issues, the special effects work was extraordinary; the creatures are absolutely amazing, and there’s a hefty amount of gore. Many of the film’s action sequences were well choreographed and are probably the only thing keeping Stake Land from being 100% forgettable. Still, the direction taken is mindboggling to me, and I can’t seem to get off the subject of who this was made for. I guess there are people out there who enjoy a snail-paced post apocalyptic quasi-vampire film?
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