Monday, November 14, 2011

REVIEW: Stake Land (2010)

In the spectrum of post-apocalyptic road movies, Stake Land can’t decide whether it wants to fall on the side of the old-school monster-killing, badassery, or the more somber, character-driven style that seems to have been rekindled by The Road. One the one hand, we’ve got Mister (Nick Damici), the kind of efficient moustache-totin’ vampire-staking machine you’d want on your side if the apocalypse did roll around, but then we’re also given Martin (Connor Paolo), a teenage kid of indeterminate age whose contemplative voice-over frequently pushes the tone into the sentimental. The resulting film handles both styles reasonably well, but the constant tension between the two means neither really develops as much as it could.

Despite the numerous scenes of vampire-killing carnage, the father-son dynamic is what wins over and ends up driving the story. The film is set some time after the emergence of zombies, er, I mean vampires, causes society to collapse and general chaos to ensure. Martin meets Mister the day his parents are killed in a vampire attack, and the two hit the road in search of New Eden, a Canadian town rumored to host a sanctuary from the undead. Just to keep things interesting, there’s also a fanatic Christian cult thrown into the mix. My biggest issue with the story is that it doesn’t break any new ground. While it does an okay job of driving the story forward, every scene feels as if it’s been played out before, and every character falls neatly into a standard archetype.

Still, this is a very good-looking apocalypse, and the believability of the sets, costumes, and general feel of the film is extremely convincing. Some of the best parts of Stake Land are its depictions of a destroyed rural American countryside with vast stretches of fields and forests broken up only by run-down shantytowns. There are also some truly intense action scenes (ever seen vampires dropped out of helicopters as weapons?), although there are an equal amount that unfold unremarkably.

It’s a shame the monsters of this world aren’t as nice-looking as the scenery. The vampires are believable when they’re simply bruised people with fangs, but other times the makeup and prosthetics are slathered on so thick it looks ridiculous. Also, they shout in that annoying guttural roar that no human throat can produce - the one that for some reason seems slapped into every single horror movie where someone transforms into a monster. The cult members are similarly over-the-top, and I’d be okay with this (insane cults are one of the best things about PA films), except that it’s incongruous with the serious tone the rest of the movie tries to establish.

I might be overly critical of Stake Land, but only because I saw such potential in it. It’s a shame that the filmmakers settled for re-treading old ground, and I truly think that had they put a little more time into the development of their script as opposed to the look of the film, they could have achieved something memorable. Instead, we’ll have to settle for another polished post-apocalyptic re-hash.

7/10 = Worth checking out

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