Jim Mickle’s Stake Land was a fun little vampire ditty back in 2010, proving once again that as an indie filmmaker, you can do a lot with a little (if you don’t overreach). The sequel, Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s Stake Land II aka The Stakelander, made its premiere late last October at Sitges and on SyFy, with a VOD release set for February 7th. With only Connor Paolo and Nick Damici coming back as Martin and Mister respectively, Stake Land II still looks to fill that same niche as the first film. Lightning doesn’t exactly strike twice, though.
A decade after being decimated by Martin (Paolo) and company’s efforts, the cult known as The Brotherhood is back. Led by the vampire known as The Mother (Kristina Hughes), The Brotherhood attacks and destroys Martin’s home of New Eden and kills Martin’s wife and child. Hungry for revenge, Martin heads south to enlist the help of his mentor, the vampire hunter known as Mister (Damici). Despite being reunited, the duo quickly find out that the land and its inhabitants is far more treacherous than it was ten years ago.
Jim Mickle moves away from the director’s chair and into the producer role for this one. In his place, Berk and Olsen take Stake Land II in a more action-oriented direction with Nick Damici’s script. There’s a fun “fight to the death” sequence reminiscent of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (minus the bungee cords and Tina Turner’s hair), as well as a scene where Mister is left tied to a cross and left for vampire food. But overall, Stake Land II feels more like The Book Of Eli and The Road in many ways, with a “roving nomad” feel to much of the happenings. Apart from the addition of a feral woman named Lady (Laura Abramsen) and the less-seen but still quite sinister Mother, Martin and Mister (as expected) get the bulk of the screen time. Mister’s old friends Bat (A.C. Peterson) and Doc Earl (Steven Williams) are fun, but they’re not as developed, and are more of the clichéd types.
The father-son dynamic between Martin and Mister was a great aspect of Stake Land, and it continues here. Though as expected, Martin and Mister have changed. After witnessing his life shattered a second time, Connor Paolo does a logical progression of turning Martin into an older, revengeful character. An early encounter involving a farmer couple with ulterior motives typifies what Martin has become. In contrast, Mister has had his hardened outlook on life weathered by time, giving way to more sympathetic tendencies. There’s a nice reveal that ties The Brotherhood’s revival to Mister’s past, but also adds an aspect of guilt to the character. Then there’s the scene near the end of the film that, as expected, hits the feels department perfectly.
Like the previous film, Stake Land II does rely a lot on previously-tread territory. However, the first film did such a great job of creating a world unique to itself that you were able to give those reuses a pass. It doesn’t work quite as well here. The predictability of situations and characters is exacerbated by the camera, which tends to linger on some of the more important objects in the scene in a not-so-subtle way of hitting the viewer over the head that THESE ARE GOING TO BE IMPORTANT LATER. It all ties into the fact that the script for Stake Land II doesn’t feel quite as polished as the first film. The loss of having the detailed characters (apart from our protagonists) in favor of doing the “lone wanderer” shtick makes the film’s proceedings unsurprising.
With that said, Stake Land II is not the absolute disappointment that I’m making it out to be. Far from it. The action and gore are still enjoyable, and the interactions between Martin and Mister are still great to see. It’s that the hopes of seeing the film build on and surpass the original in terms of uniqueness were only partially fulfilled with things we’ve already seen. The film doesn’t capture that same success that the first film had, but it’s still a worthy follow-up for those who enjoyed the original.
Stake Land II hits VOD February 7th, and DVD/Blu-Ray February 14th.